Trial begins in Carbondale armed robbery, manhunt | PostIndependent.com

Trial begins in Carbondale armed robbery, manhunt

Ryan Summerlin
rsummerlin@postindependent.com
Benjamin Weeks

Attorneys made brief opening statements Wednesday on the second day of the Benjamin Weeks trial, in which the 20-year-old is accused of the armed robbery of a Carbondale gas station last February.

Prosecutors say that Weeks, from California, and his Roaring Fork Valley cousin, Nicholas Ameral, robbed the Carbondale Cowen Center at gunpoint on Feb. 16, 2017, and in the following days, led police on a two-day manhunt as they evaded law enforcement in the hills around Basalt. The two cousins were apprehended after spending a winter night in the open with basically no warm gear, and both suffered exposure-related injuries.

Weeks faces six counts in total: Four counts of aggravated robbery and two counts of menacing, all felonies. Prosecutors have before identified Weeks as the one holding the gun during the robbery.

Separate from this Garfield County case, Weeks was also charged with first degree murder in a Las Vegas homicide from January 2016, for which extradition issues are still being worked out.

Most importantly, the local case is about the two employees working at the Cowen Center that day, and the moments of fear they experienced as the two masked men robbed them at gunpoint, said Deputy District Attorney Zac Parsons.

Parsons told the jury to pay close attention to the evidence, to video surveillance that captured Ameral prior to the robbery, to the clothing he was wearing at that time, and to the clothing seen on one of the robbers in later surveillance footage.

The prosecutor also showed stills from video footage on a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus, which they say that Weeks and Ameral leapt from to flee authorities. He also showed a still shot of Ameral’s mother’s home, which Parsons called a critical place, where investigators found a 9 mm Glock pistol with an extended magazine in a crawl space. Ameral had been staying at the home, and his cousin Weeks had been invited to stay there as well, said the deputy district attorney.

“At the end of the day, this case is about common sense,” said Parsons.

The defense’s opening statement was even more terse. Defense attorney Chip McCrory did not hint at what strategy he plans to employ.

On Feb. 16 of last year, the Valero store was held up by two people, said McCrory. “One was Nicholas Ameral; the other person is the question you will have as the jury in this case.”

The defense submits that after you have seen all the evidence presented in this case, you will discover the defendant is not guilty, and you will submit a verdict of not guilty, McCrory offered.

Ameral pleaded guilty to felony aggravated robbery in July and was sentenced to six years in prison.

During Ameral’s sentencing hearing in July, prosecutors also said that the young man will be subpoenaed to testify in his cousin’s trial.

Jury selection in Weeks’s trial took nearly two full days, but a jury of 14, including two alternates, was sworn in Wednesday afternoon.

The trial is scheduled to run 10 days.