Tree lopper saga still causing a stir | AspenTimes.com

Tree lopper saga still causing a stir

Chad Abraham

Aspen may never know who cut the tops off several trees on Hopkins Avenue, and that has one city councilman clearly frustrated.Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson on Monday called the saga a “cold case.” Unless the guilty party steps forward and confesses, investigators do not have enough evidence to build a criminal case, he said. Speculation that a neighboring property owner topped the trees – or hired someone else to do it – to improve the view is circumstantial, he said. And that makes for a weak case.Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss was upset early Monday upon learning about the lack of progress in bringing the tree lopper to justice. He intended to ask Ryerson the reasons for the investigation’s slow pace at Monday night’s council meeting; Ryerson planned to brief the council on the case in executive session.Last month, DeVilbiss called for a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the “jerk” responsible. The City Council agreed to a $5,000 bounty.”I’m not sure the reward is of a sufficient amount to jar anybody loose,” DeVilbiss said.At the start of Monday’s council meeting, DeVilbiss said he had had lunch with attorney Fred Peirce, who DeVilbiss said represents the owners of the building, either directly or a through a limited liability corporation. Peirce, he said, was able to name names of the culprits.At press time, the council had adjourned to executive session to discuss the matter, and DeVilbiss had said he wanted to raise the bounty to $25,000.The tops of six city-owned cottonwoods were chopped off in April. City officials entertained an offer from a limited liability corporation that owns a nearby property to replace the trees, but City Attorney John Worcester has pointed out that that offer is separate from the criminal investigation. Who is ultimately responsible remains elusive.DeVilbiss said he understands cases often reach a point where police have nothing left to investigate.”There are cases that reach that status. I’ve spent some time as a prosecuting attorney, and I’ve been a defense attorney,” said DeVilbiss, who was a longtime district court judge in Aspen. “I realize cases reach that point where they are cold cases. But what I know of this case, that’s a premature conclusion.”There is “absolutely no doubt in my mind” that more than one person knows who’s responsible.”Of course, that doesn’t mean you have a sound case,” he added.The culprit would face a charge of damaging public property, which comes with potentially a year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Aspen Times Staff Writer Abigail Eagye contributed to this report.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com