Judge closes juvenile hearing for boy who allegedly killed dog near Carbondale
The Aspen Times
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A judge ordered a closed hearing Wednesday for a 13-year-old boy who made his second appearance in Garfield County Court associated with allegations he shot a dog to death on the private property of a family outside of Carbondale in January.
District Judge Paul Metzger said it would be in the “best interest” of the juvenile to prevent members of the public, including the media, from attending the hearing.
His decision came after public defender Elise Myer, the defendant’s counsel, renewed her motion to close the court to parties not directly associated with the case. Myer sought the same consideration at the defendant’s first court appearance related to the dog-killing on Feb. 14, but Metzger kept the hearing open to the public at that time.
“I’d just like to say for a variety of reasons, I felt that an open and transparent hearing at that time would be appropriate,” Metzger said. But for the purposes of Wednesday’s hearing, the judge said he would keep it closed.
Myer referred to a Colorado statute pertaining to public access to juvenile criminal court proceedings, which states: “The general public shall not be excluded unless the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child or of the community to exclude the general public, and, in such event, the court shall admit only such persons as have an interest in the case or the work of the court, including persons whom the district attorney, the county or city attorney, the child, or the parents, guardian, or other custodian of the child wish to be present.”
The Aspen Times contested the decision, providing Metzger, Myer and prosecutor Tony Hershey with copies of a Colorado Supreme Court order from February 2013 reversing a lower court’s decision to close a preliminary hearing for Austin Reed Sigg, who was 17 years old at the time. The high court said the judge closed the hearing without making “specific findings demonstrating a substantial probability that the defendant’s right to a fair trial will be prejudiced by publicity that closure would prevent and that reasonable alternatives to closure cannot adequately protect the defendant’s fair trial rights.”
Myer, however, said the Sigg matter “was a case of a different variety with completely dissimilar allegations.”
In November 2013, Sigg was sentenced to life in prison plus an additional 86 years for the murder, rape and dismemberment of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway on Oct. 5, 2012.
Sigg also was charged as an adult, noted Hershey. The DA’s Office has elected to prosecute the alleged dog-killer as a juvenile.
Metzger said he would review the Supreme Court ruling and take it into consideration for future proceedings.
The suspect, who is in the custody of the Grand Mesa Youth Services Center, a juvenile detention center in Grand Junction, appeared in court with his court-appointed guardian, who also favored keeping the hearing closed. His parents participated in the hearing by telephone.
The defendant has been in custody since Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies arrested him Jan. 24, the day of the alleged offenses.
Charges against him include aggravated cruelty to animals, second-degree burglary of a dwelling, theft, possession of a handgun by a juvenile and third-degree criminal trespass. The cruelty to animals and burglary charges would be felonies were the defendant an adult.
The juvenile stands accused of firing two shots at a yellow lab, which was on its family’s front porch of their 7 Oaks home. The family was not home at the time when the boy allegedly used a scope rifle to fire the fatal shot after he allegedly fled the Garfield County Courthouse, where he was due on other charges from 2017. The boy left the courthouse while his guardian was in the bathroom, later allegedly breaking into a home in the Glenwood Springs area and stealing at least one firearm before hitching a ride into the Crystal River Valley area.
The family had a surveillance camera on their property and it purportedly showed the boy firing an errant shot from a handgun before training the rifle on the dog, whose name was Otis.
Otis’ family members were out of town and did not attend Wednesday’s hearing.
Kirsten Pamp-Friel, who owned the 1 1/2-year-old dog with her husband and 7-year-old daughter, said her husband will likely attend future hearings, but she will not. She and her husband were at the Feb. 14 hearing.
“I don’t want to be there,” she said. “It’s a little much.”
The defendant is due back in court March 14, according to Hershey.