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Ognacevic will have to try again

John Colson

Convicted robber Yuri Ognacevic was openly disappointed Tuesday when a local judge declined to reduce his sentence and put him on probation.

But Ognacevic, 19, will get another chance to press his case in approximately two weeks, when Judge J.E. DeVilbiss brings him back for a second reconsideration hearing.

Ognacevic was sentenced to four years in state prison for robbery, and Deputy District Attorney Lawson Wills recommended Ognacevic’s sentence be cut to five years’ probation. That’s the same sentence awarded on Tuesday to Ognacevic’s cohort and convicted robber, Cody Wille (see related story.)

Ognacevic is currently serving time in a halfway house in Grand Junction. He is working a couple of jobs and taking classes at Mesa State College, according to his attorney, Fred Gannett.

He is one of a dozen local youths who took part in a series of armed robberies, burglaries and other crimes in August and September of 1999.

He pleaded guilty to a single charge of robbery for his part in the armed robbery of Clark’s Market in Aspen on Aug. 5, 1999, and served part of his sentence in a minimum security facility in the Caon City area.

In August 2000, Ognacevic was sent to the Mesa County Community Corrections facility in Grand Junction.

While there, Gannett said, Ognacevic has been granted “the highest level of clearance” among the 120 inmates at the facility. Gannett said Ognacevic is the only prisoner permitted to alternate between his job at a local restaurant and classes at Mesa State without physically returning to the halfway house every time he changes locations.

Gannett said his client essentially spends only about six or six and a half hours a day at the halfway house, spending the rest of every day either in class or at work.

“Basically, he’s a workaholic,” Gannett said.

In addition to his performance, Gannett said, Ognacevic has repaid approximately $8,000 in restitution to his victims, Clark’s Market and the Take 2 video store in Aspen. Gannett said that is more than any of the other crime spree participants have repaid.

“He recognizes his errors, and he wants to make amends for them,” Gannett declared, requesting his client be put on probation and allowed to stay enrolled in Mesa State through next summer. He then plans to transfer to the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he was enrolled before being arrested in September 1999.

Local psychologist Craig Angus, who has been working with Ognacevic and his family, said of the young man, “He’s ready, but he’s a little scared, I think, to be leaving the system.”

But the judge balked at reducing his sentence, concerned that he might return to Aspen and get into trouble again.

“I don’t believe a transfer to Aspen is in Yuri’s best interest,” the judge said, despite protests from Gannett that Ognacevic has “no intention of coming back here.”

“Working his tail off and being busy every minute of the day is constructive,” he said, referring to Ognacevic’s current schedule.

Gannett and Ognacevic’s parents, Jim and Merrilee Auster, agreed to return to court in about two weeks with a more concrete outline of Ognacevic’s plans, showing he will definitely not be returning to Aspen.

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