Garner convicted in 1998 death of Gypsum woman
Jason Garner, the man who was with Gypsum resident Coty Vernon when she disappeared in February 1998, has been convicted of first-degree murder by a Grand Junction jury. Prosecutors persuaded the jury that Garner, now 27, had stabbed Vernon in a drug-fueled rage six years ago.The presiding judge immediately imposed the mandatory sentence of life in prison, without parole.”I’m glad it’s over, and I’m glad he won’t be able to hurt anyone else. He’s where he needs to be,” says Gypsum resident Janet Reid, Vernon’s mother, of the Dec. 17 jury decision. Vernon was 18 at the time of her disappearance, and Garner was 20. “It’s sad for everybody. His life is ruined, and our daughter’s (life) is gone,” she adds.Reid credits the resolution of the convoluted case to many factors, including some initial work by a pair of former Eagle County Sheriff’s investigators. She also cites the persistence of her ex-husband, Terry Vernon, in pushing for a grand jury investigation five years after Coty’s disappearance, despite the fact that, at that point, her body had not been found. Midway through that grand jury session, in December 2002, an elk hunter found Coty’s skeletal remains in a ravine about 10 miles southeast of DeBeque, near the Garfield-Mesa county line. An autopsy revealed sharp force injuries on the skeleton, consistent with knife wounds. The grand jury issued an indictment for Garner on a charge of murder. Without a body, or proof of a crime, the case stalled. Garner continued to find trouble. At the time the grand jury investigation was under way, he was facing theft and fraud charges. His record includes convictions for drug possession, trespass, assault, and drunken driving. It was Coty’s father, Terry Vernon, who kept pushing the case. He posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to her disappearance. He mailed out flyers to businesses between Eagle and Grand Junction. Several times, he flew from his home in Florida to look for her. Her parents always suspected that Garner was responsible for Coty’s death.Terry Vernon also pushed for a grand jury investigation. In fact, that grand jury session was well under way when Vernon’s body was found in December 2002. That had a big effect on the grand jury’s decision to indict. That indictment led to last week’s trial.Beaumont and van Beek testified both before the grand jury and at Garner’s trial last week, along with more than 40 witnesses. Defense attorneys argued that Garner did not know what happened to Vernon after the two got separated, while walking for help after their vehicle got stuck on a rural road.After 12 hours of deliberating, the jurors found Garner guilty of first-degree murder.After 12 hours of deliberating, the jurors found Garner guilty of first-degree murder.
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