On the house? Tell it to a jury | AspenTimes.com

On the house? Tell it to a jury

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – A Pitkin County jury is expected to hear closing arguments Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of pouring himself a drink at an Aspen sushi restaurant and then stealing an employee’s backpack.

Tuesday marked the first day of testimony in the trial of Keith Ames, 43, who faces felony burglary and misdemeanor theft charges.

Prosecutors allege that Ames entered Matsuhisa’s unlocked doors outside of business hours on July 9, 2010, went behind the bar and helped himself to some booze.

The felony burglary, claims Deputy District Attorney Richard Nedlin, occurred not because Ames entered the establishment in an unlawful manner, but because he remained there unlawfully with the intent to commit a theft. The theft charge comes from Ames allegedly pouring the shot and swiping a backpack that contained a restaurant worker’s cell phone, two iPods, keys, and other items.

Ames’ lead attorney, public defender Matt Morris, contends that Ames wasn’t aware of what he was doing because he was intoxicated. Morris is expected to present one witness Wednesday on behalf of Ames.

The jury, comprising seven men and five women, was selected Monday, and Tuesday heard opening arguments and testimony from three witnesses for the prosecution, and one from the defense. They also saw video surveillance of the incident, which showed Ames tend bar for himself.

Two Matsuhisa employees alleged that Ames walked in the bar downstairs when it was closed and acted defiantly.

“I told him we weren’t open and asked him to leave,” said hostess Amanda Tanaka.

Ames declined and poured two shots, she testified. Another employee, beverage director Shawn Gallus, told the jury that it appeared Ames drank one of two shots of well gin he poured himself. Before Ames left the restaurant, he put a $5 bill on the bar; a well shot fetches $9, Gallus said.

Gallus added that after Ames took his backpack, he and another worker apprehended Ames outside of Matsuhisa and called Aspen police, who arrived about two minutes later. Cops then arrested Ames.

Jurors weren’t made aware of Ames’ Dec. 16 conviction that came after a two-day trial in Pitkin County District Court, where a jury found him guilty on one felony count of possession of less than 1 gram of cocaine.

The cocaine arrest was made on March 10, 2010, four months before the Matsuhisa incident. Bond conditions for the cocaine arrest stipulated that Ames could not commit a felony. The Matsuhisa arrest triggered a violation of bond condition charge, which the jury has not heard about. Should the jury convict Ames on the felony burglary charge, Nedlin is likely to ask the jury later to convict him for violating his bond condition.