Prison too harsh?
Some members of the Aspen community are calling for a measure of leniency for the local young men who have garnered national attention for their alleged involvement in felony crimes that have left the town shaken.
About the latest wrinkle in the saga – over shows of support for the crime victims as well as the alleged criminals and their families – Aspenite Jane Merrill said she feels it’s OK to feel for all parties affected by the crimes. Empathizing with one group should not preclude feeling compassion for the other, too.
“I don’t see what the problem is with feeling compassion for people on both sides,” Merrill said Sunday. “Anytime you know the people personally or have connections with them, it’s going to hit you close to home … but whether the kids are local, or from Denver, I’d feel compassion for them.”
“It’s a sad deal,” said Aspenite Bart Levine. “It’s understandable that you could have compassion for everybody involved … it’s sad these victims had to go through this and it’s sad that these kids may have been so stupid to screw up their lives.”
Regarding the appropriate punishment for the alleged criminals, should they be convicted of the robbery and/or burglary charges they face, Merrill said: “Because of their age and previous history as good kids, I think the legal system needs to realize this will make or break these kids’ lives. They have the final say as to which way it’s going to go – you could send these kids to prison and perhaps ruin their lives forever, or you could make them give back to the community for the wrong they’ve done. Do something positive instead of something negative, like sending them to prison.”
Longtime Aspenite Heinz Wolf agreed that prison sentences would be too severe.
“I think they should let the kids off with probation,” Wolf said, “because kids do dumb things. It’s no use sending them to prison and basically condemning them to become career criminals. Scare the hell out of them, sure, but then let them out on probation. Don’t ruin them. Sending them to prison would be the worst thing the courts could do … They earned it, but these are kids.”
Heinz’s wife Elaine suggested “trying to turn them around in a professional way,” through required community service work, anger management classes and counseling.
“It’s a tough situation,” said Kristin Roggow of Aspen. “You can’t make exceptions for some kids and not for others – not that our criminal justice system will rehabilitate them either – but the punishment shouldn’t be a slap on the wrist. Something needs to be done. I don’t know if prison time is the answer, though.”
Aspenite Brian Nardone said politically-motivated attacks against Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards, whose 18-year-old son, Jacob, has been implicated in the crimes, go too far.
“I think the attacks on Rachel’s mothering skills are wrong,” he said. “Any conversation on that topic should be between her and her son, and the rest of us should shut up. Let justice carry its course.”
“It’s a shame,” said Elizabeth Green of Aspen. “It’s surprising too, since they seem to have everything going for them, to screw up just for a thrill. I don’t think it has much to do with their parents though. Kids this age tend to screw up, but these kids screwed up big.”
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