Choice of house still a mystery
A prosecutor in a Basalt home invasion and robbery case said Monday that investigators never were able to establish why the three men from western Garfield County targeted a house in Basalt.
None of the men had ties to the Roaring Fork Valley, according to John Franks, deputy district attorney for the 5th Judicial District. Two of the men lived in Rifle and the third in Parachute. He said one of the men at one time worked in Glenwood Springs, but that was the closest proximity any of them had to Basalt.
The three men — Michael Hawkins, 25, of Parachute; Sergio Sanchez, 24, of Rifle; and Rafael Vega Sanchez, 18, of Rifle — have all pleaded guilty to charges connected to the Nov. 28, 2012, armed robbery of a Basalt homeowner. The victim, now 76 years old, was traumatized but not physically harmed during the incident.
The victim had informed a medical-supply company that she was going to be out of town, but it’s unknown if that information was passed on to the three men who plotted the robbery, Franks said. None of the men worked for the medical-supply firm, and investigators weren’t able to find a link among employees.
Two men kicked in the victim’s front door while the third waited outside in a vehicle. They stole more than $50,000 worth of jewelry, cash and other valuables.
The robbers claimed to police and an investigator for the DA’s office that they didn’t think anyone was home at the residence on Riverside Drive. Franks, though, said he doesn’t necessarily believe that.
“They went in with at least one gun,” Franks said. That indicates they were prepared in case they ran into someone, he said.
Franks said the robbers might have targeted the Riverside Drive neighborhood because of its nicer homes, then picked the victim’s house because there didn’t appear to be activity.
“We’ve never had anybody say that particular house was targeted,” Franks said. The reason the victim’s home was selected may never be known, he said.
The victim came out from a bedroom after the men entered the house. One of the men pointed a gun at her while they collected valuables. Hawkins, who has been sentenced to 24 years in the Colorado state prison system, testified at his sentencing hearing Oct. 8 that he didn’t have the gun. He identified Vega Sanchez as the gunman.
That contradicts an affidavit filed by DA Investigator Rick Wallingford in support of an arrest warrant for Vega Sanchez. Wallingford said an informant told investigators that Vega Sanchez remained in a vehicle outside the residence while Sergio Sanchez and Hawkins broke down the door.
Franks said prosecutors “feel strongly” about which one of the robbers possessed the gun. He declined to identify the suspected gunman because he said it could be an issue in the sentencing of the men next month. Sanchez’s charges have a “Crime of Violence” sentence enhancer. The charges against Vega Sanchez don’t have that enhancer.
Franks declined to say if he felt Hawkins was credible on the gunman issue. Hawkins and Vega Sanchez were scheduled to testify against Sanchez in a trial scheduled Jan. 6-10. The trial was canceled when Sanchez pleaded guilty Monday to charges during jury selection.
Eagle County District Judge Fred Gannett told Hawkins on Oct. 8 that he could ask to have his sentence reconsidered if he cooperated with authorities in the prosecution of the other men. Franks said he didn’t know if Hawkins is seeking reconsideration of his sentence. He declined to say if he would support or oppose a request for a lighter sentence.
The victim had a ring of high sentimental value returned to her Monday, according to Franks. Other items of high monetary value that were taken in the robbery were never recovered, he said.
Vega Sanchez is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 7. Sanchez will be sentenced Feb. 26.
Lisa Hunt of the DA’s office was also a prosecutor in the case. District Attorney Bruce Brown released a statement about the case that said, “Our community is incredibly lucky to have such infrequent and rare criminal acts. This is a very important case to the District Attorney’s Office and having brought these perpetrators into court serves as a warning to others who might prey on innocents, particularly the elderly.”
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Out-of-town hunters descend in droves upon Rifle every year to navigate the rugged, Western Slope terrain as they try to bag their share of trophy elk.