Richards’ sentence reduced six months; family shocked |

Richards’ sentence reduced six months; family shocked

John Colson

The son of Aspen’s mayor apparently will remain imprisoned longer than he had hoped for his part in a series of local crimes in 1999.

Local Judge J.E. DeVilbiss agreed Monday afternoon to reduce Jacob Richards’ sentence by six months, from four years to three and a half years, and ordered that Richards continue to serve his time in a “community corrections facility,” or a halfway house.

Richards had hoped for a much more significant reduction in the length of his sentence.

A shocked courtroom full of relatives, friends and supporters of both Richards and his mother, Mayor Rachel Richards, emptied out in silence after the judge delivered his verdict.

Although the mayor declined to comment immediately after the hearing, she said later, “I respect Judge DeVilbiss, and I think he has the hardest job in the world. I think the most important thing is Jacob’s working, enjoying what he’s doing, learning a new skill. We’ll just work our way through it.”

But Judge DeVilbiss’ decision puzzled both court and corrections officials, who were unsure what the sentence reduction would mean for Richards. So there is a chance he could end up back in the courtroom.

For one thing, the halfway house is a private contractor, not part of state government.

As a result of the judge’s action, Richards’ stay in the facility must now be paid for by the Ninth Judicial District, which includes Pitkin County; before it was being billed to the state Department of Corrections. And officials are unsure if Pitkin County, which is allotted a limited number of community corrections “slots” each year by the state, has any left to accommodate Richards.

If the county cannot accommodate the sentence, Richards may have to go back before the judge for another sentence modification hearing, according to Matt Sullivan, a community corrections official.

But if the sentence is carried out, Sullivan said, Richards has been doing well already in the halfway house program and could be ready to move into his own apartment soon and operate with greater freedom.

Richards has been in jail basically since late September 1999, when he turned himself in to police. He was sentenced to prison in January 2000.

For the past several months, he has been in a halfway house in Grand Junction, where he was transferred from the Skyline minimum-security prison in Caon City.

Richards is one of a dozen local young men implicated in a crime spree that included armed robberies of Clark’s Market in Aspen, the Aspen Alps condominium office and the Village Market in Snowmass Village, as well as burglaries of several local businesses and a home on Twining Flats west of Aspen.

According to records and testimony, Richards was involved in the Twining Flats burglary and the Clark’s robbery, as well as other incidents.

Richards’ supporters were clearly disappointed by the judge’s ruling Monday, and some voiced bewilderment over the difference between the outcome for Richards compared to that for his cohort in the Clark’s robbery, Cody Wille.

In a similar sentence-reduction hearing recently, the judge concurred with a recommendation from local prosecutor Lawson Wills and changed Wille’s sentence from three years in a prison for youthful offenders to five years of probation at home.

Wills recommended modifying Richards’ sentence to probation in a memo filed with the court last year. And Wills agreed with Richards’ attorney this week that a reduction of Richards’ sentence to two years would also be appropriate. That would have meant Richards would be eligible for parole later this year.

Although the victim of the Twining Flats burglary worried that DeVilbiss might give Richards favorable treatment because of his “political connections,” the judge told Richards Monday, “I can promise you, that’s immaterial to me.”

The judge then declared, “I think that four years is a modest sentence for the amount of things that went on. I think the sentence … was appropriate when it was given, and it’s appropriate now … without regard to any other circumstances.”

Richards has expressed the hope that he can enter Mesa State College this summer, and Sullivan said that is still possible under the modified sentence.

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