Suspect ID’d in hunter’s death
June 16, 2005
Officials believe an undocumented worker is responsible for the shooting death of turkey hunter Jeff Garrett on May 14.The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office is looking for a Mexican national it believes has fled the United States. The suspect had forged immigration documents and was working at the Bear Wallow Ranch near New Castle before he fled, Sheriff Lou Vallario said.”We have recovered the weapon, we have a witness, and we have a suspect,” Vallario said at a press conference Thursday. Vallario declined to give the suspect’s name because the investigation is ongoing.On the day Garrett was killed, two ranch hands, both Mexican nationals, apparently were clearing brush when one or both heard Garrett’s turkey calls coming from heavy cover. The sheriff’s office believes the suspect shot Garrett, thinking he was a turkey. The suspect likely discovered he’d shot Garrett after the fact and fled that day, Vallario said.Garrett, a top executive at Qwest, was hunting on Bureau of Land Management land at the time of the shooting but was close to land Bear Wallow leases from the agency. Given the proximity of Bear Wallow, investigators questioned ranch management multiple times about hunting on ranch property and who was working at the time of the shooting. During questioning this week, they were able to identify the witness and suspect. Investigators located a .22-caliber rifle the ranch owned, still attached to the all-terrain vehicle the suspect and witness had used May 14. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation confirmed the rifle was the one used in the shooting.The press conference was supposed to have been a plea from Garrett’s family for suspects or witnesses to come forward. In the 48 hours previous, however, the department located the witness, who identified the suspect. Garrett’s wife, Charlotte, attended the press conference, thanking Garfield County officials for their work on the case.”The death of my husband, Jeff Garrett, has been devastating to all of us,” she read from a statement. “Jeff was a thoughtful husband, a proud father, a loving son, a protective brother and, to many people, a funny and caring friend. Yesterday was our 14th wedding anniversary. He was an amazing man, and his spirit will be kept alive in our two children. I want to thank … everyone that helped find Jeff’s body and bring him home to us.”Despite the break in the case, many questions remain: the suspect’s exact location, what charges he might face and in which country he’ll go to trial. Investigators assume the suspect is in Mexico but don’t know precisely where, Vallario said.The suspect likely will face some sort of homicide charge. Negligence, man-slaughter and second-degree murder are possible, too, Vallario said.This case has similarities with a Denver case in which authorities sought a Mexican national in connection with the slaying of a Denver police officer and wounding of another before the suspect fled to Mexico. Mexico has said it won’t extradite its citizens if they could face the death penalty here and blocked extradition if suspects face life in prison without the possibility of parole.That sticking point isn’t likely in this case because the suspect will probably not face either of those sentences, Vallario said.Still, “The Mexican government will often charge their citizens in their country,” Vallario said. The chances the suspect will face charges here are 50/50, he said.Under the best circumstances, the sheriff’s office will apprehend the suspect by next week – under the worst, it’ll be three weeks. Vallario didn’t know if Garrett’s life may have been saved if the shooter had gone for help immediately. The witness, who was in the area but was told after the fact about the shooting, probably will not face charges, Vallario said.The shooter might have faced lesser charges if he’d come forward right away, he said.