Trial witness recounts day state trooper was shot near Silt

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Wayne Hangs testified Tuesday that Nichole Brownell got off the phone, excited and hysterical, and said, “Dude just shot a cop.”

Hangs, a truck driver, struck a plea agreement with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony and cooperation. He testified against Brownell and is also expected to testify against Cori Graham.

Police say the two women tried to help Steven Appl – who had the nickname “Dude” – hide and try to escape after he shot former Colorado State Patrol Trooper Brian Koch in the arm during a 2006 traffic stop south of Silt.

Appl shot himself while hiding under some blankets in the extended cab of a pickup truck at a police checkpoint the next day. Police say Graham was driving the truck. Koch, who testified on Monday, said he left the patrol due to permanent injuries he suffered and is now a safety consultant for ConocoPhillips.

Prosecutors allowed Hangs to plead guilty to tampering with evidence under a deferred judgment and sentence. Other charges were dismissed, and if Hangs cooperates and doesn’t get into trouble, the case against him could be dismissed.

Hangs said Brownell and a group of other people were hanging out at his house on Dry Hollow Road (County Road 331) on the night of the shooting. He said Brownell got the phone call from Appl that he’d shot a cop and they all left because they didn’t want to be involved with the police. But Hangs said they saw Appl at the bottom of the driveway.

Brownell said they should get out of there and Appl said that was a good idea, according to Hangs. Hangs changed some of his answers during testimony and said he had trouble remembering things.

“I’m not totally sure of the conversation she had with Mr. Appl,” he said.

“She might have said, ‘OK, go to the house,'” he said later.

“Well did she say that or didn’t she?” asked Deputy District Attorney Amy Fitch.

“Yes,” Hangs answered.

He said they drove to Silt and Rifle and then back to his house, where Brownell also lived. Police were there asking about Appl’s car nearby and the shooting but, “We all told them we didn’t know who it was,” Hangs said.

Law enforcement searched the house and surroundings and didn’t find Appl. Brownell got rides to Silt and Rifle and then to DeBeque, where she met Graham at a bar. They both drove back to Hangs’ house after Hangs called and told Brownell police needed permission to search the property, according to testimony.

Kari Goin, an acquaintance, testified that Brownell told her Appl buried himself in the dirt that night to avoid the police and came in cold and dirty the next day. She admitted that she initially told police she stopped by Hangs’ home and saw a man who was probably Appl.

Brownell appeared to have trouble staying awake in the mid-afternoon during her trial as her eyes closed and her head dropped down several times. She’s accused of being an accessory to attempted murder on a police officer and tampering with evidence.

A state patrol investigator said Hangs told him in a previous interview that Brownell told Appl to go into the house, and that she knew Appl had buried himself in the dirt to avoid police.

Fitch also called about five other law enforcement agents to the witness stand. Two telephone company executives appeared and phone records involving Hangs, Brownell and Graham’s phone numbers were admitted into evidence.

Brownell’s attorney, Chip McCrory, motioned for acquittal after Fitch rested the prosecution’s case. He said the two counts against Brownell are in essence identical, and being an accessory requires some kind of action more than just failing to call the police.

“Mere silence is not enough,” he said. “Hangs himself said Nikki didn’t say go to the house.”

Fitch said it was clear Brownell provided Appl with a place to stay, and that Brownell brought Graham to the house later the next day after calling her around 9 a.m. They all lied to police when they initially said they didn’t know anything about the shooting, Fitch said.

District Judge Denise Lynch denied the mid-trial motion. She said there does seem to be evidence that Brownell knew Appl was in the house and obstructed police because she didn’t tell them he was there.

The trail is expected to wrap up Wednesday.

Hangs is scheduled for sentencing June 6. Graham’s trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 8.