Ameral sentenced to 6 years in prison
A district court judge sentenced Nicholas Ameral to six years in prison Tuesday. The 19-year-old pleaded guilty to felony aggravated robbery with an armed confederate.
His co-defendant in the robbery of a Carbondale convenience store is his cousin, Benjamin Weeks, who prosecutors say wielded the gun in this robbery. Weeks has pleaded not guilty to four counts of aggravated robbery, menacing with a deadly weapon and use of a firearm during a robbery. His two-week trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 2.
Weeks has also been charged with murder in a Las Vegas case, and extradition issues are still being hammered out. So it’s still unclear whether he’ll be extradited before his Garfield County case concludes.
Prosecutors say Ameral and Weeks held up the Cowen Center Convenience Store at gunpoint in February. When they learned they were wanted in the robbery, the two fled law enforcement, leaping from a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus, leading to a two-day manhunt in frigid temperatures in the Basalt countryside.
Both of the victims in the armed robbery should not have had to go through this, said Deputy District Attorney Zac Parsons. The fear and violence they subjected these individuals and the community to needs to be punished, he said.
Ameral’s plea agreement set a possible range of five to eight years in the Colorado Department of Corrections.
Parsons, saying that Ameral is likely to serve only a fraction of whatever sentence the judge imposed, asked for a seven-year sentence.
Ameral’s cooperation with police has worked in his favor, and both Parsons and Judge James Boyd said he was getting a significant break in the plea deal considering the initial charges filed against him. The most severe of his initial charges, an aggravated robbery count, carried a range of 10-32 years, which could possibly have been sentenced consecutively for each of the two victims.
Parsons said that the 19-year-old came clean in March, telling investigators that he and Weeks robbed the convenience store together. The prosecutor noted that he has no track record of felony convictions, but had extensive contacts with law enforcement as a juvenile, with a juvenile criminal conviction of felony menacing with a deadly weapon. This history presents a violent pattern that has continued into adulthood, said Parsons, who added that these crimes need a sentence that protects the community.
The prosecutor said Ameral will also be subpoenaed to testify in Weeks’ trial.
Public Defender Molly Owens described her client as a “naive young man” whose character amounts to more than the one-minute of the robbery in this case. Ameral also has a strong support network in the community, as evidenced by numerous letters of support written to the judge, she said.
The defense asked that he be sentenced to five years in DOC.
Any DOC sentence for someone of Ameral’s age and spirit is a heavy thing to ask, said Owens. “Five years is not getting off easy.” But she said that, under this plea agreement, it was the most reasonable and just outcome for the defendant.
Ameral made a statement to the court before the judge handed down his sentence. He said the last few months in jail have give him time to think about how his actions had caused fear and trauma, promising that he would work hard on his “thought process and cognitive disorders.”
Boyd said that Ameral’s crimes had put him in a position where prison time was inevitable. The judge stressed the danger of introducing the gun in the robbery and the terror it must have caused the victims. That the crime occurred in a community where people otherwise feel safe makes it even more distressing, he said.
Ameral got credit for 153 days of time served. Following his prison sentence, he will have five years of mandatory parole.
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