Teenage shooting suspect pleads guilty
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Eric Stoneman, the 14-year-old who shot and killed Taylor DeMarco, 9, on July 20, stoically pleaded guilty Thursday to shooting the boy in a Battlement Mesa mobile home.
In a plea bargain Chief District Judge T. Peter Craven accepted, Stoneman pleaded guilty to felony reckless manslaughter, a charge that was reduced from first-degree murder.
He also pleaded guilty to felony menacing with a deadly weapon and misdemeanor resisting arrest ” all adult convictions.
Though Bill DeMarco, the victim’s father, angrily said in court that the plea agreement is unacceptable, Craven sentenced Stoneman to be incarcerated for 10 years.
Stoneman will serve a two-year sentence in a Colorado Division of Youth Services facility for resisting arrest and a consecutive two-year sentence there for menacing with a deadly weapon. Once he turns 18, Stoneman will be transferred to a Department of Corrections prison, where he will serve a six-year term, followed by three years of parole.
He will be eligible for parole on the manslaughter sentence once he turns 22, reducing to eight years the minimum duration of his incarceration. But there’s no guarantee Stoneman would be granted parole before his term is complete, said Assistant District Attorney Vincent Felletter.
Felletter said he did not know where Stoneman will serve his sentence.
Stoneman admitted he shot Taylor DeMarco on July 20 at the home of a third child, Eric Warde, 13, at 204 Carson Circle in Battlement Mesa.
According to Warde, the boys argued on and off all morning. Stoneman left the home and returned with a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun and shot Taylor DeMarco in the chest after pointing the gun at Warde and at himself.
Bill DeMarco said in court that this was the first he had heard of the plea agreement and did not accept its terms.
“Ten years is not enough,” he said after slamming a framed photo of his son on the defense’s desk. “This is not right. The mother should be responsible, too,” because the gun allegedly belonged to Stoneman’s mother.
Eric Warde’s father, Rick Warde, was even more harsh in his criticism of the plea bargain, claiming that it had “political significance” with the recent recall of District Attorney Colleen Truden, who came under fire for charging Stoneman as an adult.
“The community doesn’t want him back,” Rick Warde said of Stoneman. “I don’t want him back.”
When Felletter later said that the plea bargain will hopefully allow Stoneman to re-enter society as a better person one day, Rick Warde criticized Felletter under his breath and left the courtroom.
“I do not see Eric Stoneman as being a hardened criminal,” Felletter said.
He said that the outcome of the case will please no one because Taylor DeMarco can never be brought back. And though Felletter said he understands Bill DeMarco’s anger and rage, he said that taking away the entire life of a 14-year-old is not just.
Stoneman’s public defenders then asked Craven to proceed with sentencing.
“The ramifications and human suffering will not stop here,” Craven said of the case, adding that one of the deficiencies of Colorado law is that it doesn’t do much for the families who suffer after they’ve been touched by a murder.
Craven said he hopes Stoneman will emerge from prison rehabilitated.
When Craven asked Stoneman if he wanted to make a statement, the boy declined.
After sentencing, Felletter said in a news conference that the final terms of the plea agreement were reached Wednesday, adding that Stoneman received a “very unusual sentence.”
He said he believed it would be unjust to subject Stoneman to the conditions of an adult prison, where he would be surrounded by the worst juvenile offenders in Colorado. That’s why he agreed Stoneman should be sent to an adult prison only after he turns 18.
Stoneman could have received a less severe punishment if he had been given a 10-year adult sentence because he could have been eligible for parole after five years, a punishment that Felletter said would not have been harsh enough.
Felletter said Stoneman was fully aware of the seriousness of his situation and the ramifications of his guilty plea.
Because of threats Felletter said he received from people on both sides of the case, he said Thursday was probably the most dangerous day he had ever spent in court as a prosecutor.
Security was extremely tight, with heavily armed officers guarding the courtroom. Sheriff’s deputies screened everyone in the courtroom for weapons.
Security has been tight for every hearing except the first on July 21; that’s when Bill DeMarco lunged at Stoneman and had to be restrained.
Stoneman’s plea agreement comes on the heels of Truden’s recall on Dec. 13. The agreement could have been reached even if Truden remained in office. But Felletter said that he worried the case could have been “fumbled” if a new prosecutor under district attorney-elect Martin Beeson had taken the case to trial on such short notice.
Regardless of the political situation in the district attorney’s office, “I felt we reached an appropriate result,” Felletter said.
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