Judge denies plea agreement in West Glenwood Springs vehicular homicide case
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Maria Barrigan Silva’s brother stood and told a judge Monday that Patricio Mellin Tapia should get 10 years in prison for killing her in a drunken driving accident.”I don’t think this is a proper sentence,” he said of the recommendation in a plea agreement. “Especially for killing my sister.”Family members of the victim said the prosecutor hadn’t adequately consulted them before recommending the sentence. They believe the recommended 15 months in jail with three years of unsupervised probation was too lenient. Mellin Tapia would have already had credit for 283 days served in jail toward his sentence. If he were to get 15 months in jail, Barrigan Silva said, he would probably get deported, come back and commit more crimes.Barrigan Silva said he told 14th Judicial District Attorney Bonnie Roesink, “How would you feel if he killed your daughter?”Roesink was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case because a family member of the victim works in the local district attorney’s office. She declined to comment on the case outside the courtroom.Barrigan Silva’s mother, Maria Silva Barrigan, said through an interpreter, “I just want you to consider this case and to be just because the family is being affected greatly. … There’s a 6-year-old girl who lost her mother.”Maria Barrigan Silva died at age 21 in an auto accident in West Glenwood Springs in August. Authorities believe the driver, Mellin Tapia, 28, was intoxicated and crashed in the parking lot of the Oasis restaurant around 7 a.m. Mellin Tapia was arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide, DUI, driving under restraint for a previous alcohol-related offense and failure to provide proof of insurance.Mellin Tapia’s attorney, Bill Schubert, said his client and Maria Barrigan Silva were planning on getting married and were celebrating at a hotel the night before.Mellin Tapia pleaded guilty in February to vehicular homicide, DUI and driving under restraint with the recommendation for 15 months in jail and three years probation. He hasn’t posted a $100,000 bond and remains in the Garfield County Jail under an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold. Schubert has said it’s a “virtual certainty” he’ll be deported after his sentence. If a judge found prison reasonable over a lesser sentence, the presumptive range for the vehicular homicide count alone is four to 12 years in prison and possible fines of $3,000 to $750,000.Family members said they were frustrated with the recommendation since they read that Roesink’s office decided to seek six months in jail for two men who stole vegetables from the Sweet Pea Produce store in Steamboat in 2006.Roesink and Schubert said the plea agreement was reasonable based on sentences in other similar cases. Roesink said the longest incarceration she found in the 9th Judicial District in a vehicular homicide case was 18 months in jail.Roesink also said it’s difficult to get convictions in vehicular homicide cases, especially when the victims are close. Both attorneys criticized the investigation into the accident. Roesink said she’d talked to some family members about the agreement and they seemed fine with it, but she acknowledged there were problems communicating with the family, in part due to some of them speaking only limited English.”I speak English,” said Barrigan Silva’s brother. “They could have called me to ask if I was OK with it.”District Judge Daniel Petre disagreed with the attorneys and did not accept the agreement and its recommendation for 15 months in jail and three years probation. Petre said he would limit his comments so as not to prejudice a potential jury, but just because there are problems obtaining convictions at trial in vehicular homicide cases doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be pursued. He added that family members are clearly distressed about the plea agreement.Petre said if he accepted the plea agreement, Mellin Tapia would have already served most of his jail sentence, and Mellin Tapia probably wouldn’t be able to participate in probation and “restorative justice” such as community service and financial restitution if he’s deported.Mellin Tapia will get some time to either withdraw his guilty plea or renegotiate a deal with Roesink.Contact Pete Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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