Glenwood man gets probation in drug assault on wife
Garfield County Judge Denise Lynch on Wednesday sentenced Byron Gardner, a 42-year-old Glenwood Springs man arrested a year ago and originally charged with attempted murder of his wife, to three years’ probation.
An audible gasp rose from a couple rows of Gardner’s friends and relatives in the courtroom as Lynch handed down the light sentence. District Attorney Jeff Cheney said after the hearing that, though he respects Lynch, this was an unexpected and disappointing sentence.
Gardner was initially charged with attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault with a deadly weapon, both felonies, and two counts of misdemeanor child abuse. In December, he pleaded guilty to felony second-degree assault by drugging, and his other charges were dismissed.
According to Glenwood Springs police, Gardner tried to kill his wife in February 2016 by keeping her in a running vehicle in their enclosed garage. Emergency workers found extremely high carbon monoxide levels in the home, with the couple’s two children inside.
Gardner later told police that he believed his wife was going to leave him and he left the car running to keep her warm.
Before leading her into the garage where two vehicles were running, Gardner ground up a sleeping pill into a ginger, honey and lime tea for his wife, according to an affidavit.
Eventually she became disoriented and tried to leave, but Gardner repeatedly restrained her, according to police.
His wife was vomiting and disoriented when she called the police and said she believed her husband had “dosed her drink.”
Glenwood Springs Fire Department personnel found carbon monoxide levels of more than 900 parts per million, levels that one firefighter said he had never seen in a house before.
“If the family had not been evacuated, they would have fallen asleep and never woken up,” the firefighter said, according to an affidavit.
The family was rushed to Valley View, and Gardner and his wife had to then go to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood for treatment in a hypobaric chamber.
Leading a victim into a garage with two running cars, having a towel stuffed under the door and repeatedly stopping the victim from leaving, “this was not an accident,” said Deputy District Attorney Steve Mallory.
The prosecution asked Lynch to sentence Gardner to six years in prison.
Gardner’s wife addressed the court, but her soft, quavering voice was barely audible. Through her attorney, Greg Greer, she asked that her husband receive a probation sentence, as that would be best for their family and children. She had been at Gardner’s court proceedings before asking for leniency.
Gardner, being a smart, educated man, had he wanted to kill his wife, he would have done it, Public Defender Elise Myer argued.
She noted that Gardner hadn’t deactivated the home’s carbon monoxide detectors, which were sounding when emergency responders arrived.
The children being home at the time is the biggest indicator that Gardner was not trying to kill his wife, because he would not intentionally put them in danger, said Myer.
He pleaded guilty to second-degree assault by drugging, but Gardner denies that he intended or attempted to kill his wife.
Myer said Gardner often put sleeping pills in her tea without her knowing it to help her go to sleep.
The prosecution had no knowledge of Gardner and his wife’s relationship and that their relationship had started with intimacy in a vehicle, said Myer.
TALK OF DIVORCE
The couple was discussing divorce and Gardner was hoping to take the relationship back to its starting point, Myer said.
Myer added that some of the evidence the prosecution relied on was flimsy. Prosecutors pointed to a towel near the garage door and argued it was placed there to seal the garage. Myer said the prosecution didn’t mention that another opening had been left alone.
“This is a very difficult sentence, probably the hardest I’ve ever had,” said Lynch, who added that she didn’t get any sleep the night before.
Lynch said she had read 30-some letters from Gardner’s friends and family.
It’s a very serious offense, if the DA’s version of events is to be believed, she said.
But it wasn’t a black-and-white case, she said; there are obviously two very different versions of what happened that night, so in this case it’s important to review the purposes of a prison sentence.
Lynch concluded that none of those purposes — for punishment, community safety, rehabilitation or deterrence — fit Gardner’s case.
The judge noted that he had no criminal record, had a close relationship with his sons and that he is voluntarily getting counseling. She also reasoned that sending him to prison could very well make him a dangerous person when he wasn’t dangerous in the first place.
She said the purpose of deterrence was a “fallacy,” reasoning that someone who wants to commit murder isn’t going to be deterred by a prison sentence.
It’s also important to consider the victim’s wishes, and in this case his wife favored probation, said the judge.
‘NOT A SUFFICIENT RESPONSE’
But DA Cheney said that to believe that this was not intentional is incomprehensible. He highlighted that two vehicles had been left running in the garage and that Gardner had repeatedly restrained his wife.
Cheney said he specifically disagreed with the judge’s reasoning that there was no deterrent value in a prison sentence.
The DA, having won election to his first term in November, said that he talked with thousands of people on the campaign trail whom he believed would disagree with Lynch — that average citizens believe that sentences promote respect for the law and prevent crimes.
If you believe the version of this case that this was an attempt to take another person’s life, “probation is not a sufficient response,” said Cheney.
Cheney also pointed out that Gardner’s plea deal was struck by former DA Sherry Caloia. Cheney, who defeated Caloia in November, said he would not offer a similar deal.
After the sentencing, Gardner quoted Charles Dickens, describing the last year as “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
The best of times came via support from his friends and family throughout the case, he said.
Gardner said he was “of course relieved” to hear the sentence of probation.
As he waited for Lynch to announce the sentence, his fear of prison was not for himself but for his sons, he said.
Gardner said he was also very grateful to his wife for her “strong and constant support throughout this process.”
His three years of probation came with a two-year suspended prison sentence, and he’s required to complete 100 hours of community service.
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Blood scraped off the steering wheel and driver’s seat match Cody Christopher, but the defense attorney doesn’t find that conclusive.