Plea deal in sex assault cases offers promise of freedom for Woody Creek teen
The Aspen Times
The District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday offered a plea deal to a Woody Creek teenager charged with sexually assaulting four local girls, and the deal would make him a free man in 20 years.
Now, instead of the possibility of life in prison if he is convicted on even one of the most serious sex assault charges he is facing, the teen could be off probation in 20 years with the chance at a normal life if he accepts the deal, a prosecutor said Wednesday in Pitkin County District Court.
“It’s a good offer,” Trent Trani, the teenager’s Denver-based lawyer, said, though he was quick to point out that his characterization of the deal is no indication of his client’s guilt or that he has decided to take the deal.
The offer came to light Wednesday morning in district court just before a preliminary hearing in three of the four cases against the teen, who has been charged as an adult in those cases despite the fact that he was 17 at the time they were charged.
However, the teen — who has since turned 18 — decided to waive his right to the preliminary hearing, which was a condition of the DA’s plea offer, in order to ponder the deal, Trani said. The hearing would have established whether prosecutors have probable cause to charge the teen in the three cases.
In exchange for the deal, the teen would plead guilty as an adult to felony second-degree assault in one of the cases against him, in which he would admit using his hands as a deadly weapon, deputy district attorney Don Nottingham said. He would then be sentenced for six years to the Department of Corrections’ Youthful Offender System, where he would receive treatment and rehabilitation, he said.
He also would plead guilty to felony sexual assault using force in one of the other cases filed against him, Nottingham said. While the DA’s Office would not require mandatory prison time for that plea, the teen would have to agree to a sentence of 20 years to life on probation, he said.
The two sentences would run concurrently, so he would serve a minimum of 14 years on probation after completing the six years in the Youthful Offender System, which aims to rehabilitate those convicted as juveniles or young adults, Nottingham and Trani said.
“It’s a great program for young people who need to be there,” Trani said.
Probation officials would have the final say as to when and if the teen is ever released from supervised probation, Nottingham said.
He said he offered the deal — in which the teen could receive sex-offender treatment if that was deemed appropriate — because of the defendant’s young age and also to “minimize potential trauma to victims” who would have to testify in the preliminary hearing and at trial.
If the teen accepts the plea deal, the other 15 charges filed against him in the four cases would be dismissed, Nottingham said. The offer is good until July 15, he said.
The Aspen Times is not naming the 18-year-old despite the fact that he’s been charged as an adult because he’s asked to have all his cases tried in juvenile court in a process known as a “reverse-transfer hearing.” Juveniles are not usually identified in media reports. That hearing was supposed to take place between Wednesday and Friday in conjunction with the preliminary hearing.
However, District Judge Chris Seldin postponed that hearing Tuesday until Aug. 1 because of a pending, “imminent” decision by the Colorado Supreme Court about reverse-transfer hearings that Trani said will definitely affect the Woody Creek teen’s hearing request.
In turn, that Supreme Court decision could affect the teen’s decision to accept the plea deal or not, Trani said.
Two of the most violent cases filed against the teenager also included a co-defendant, 21-year-old Keegan Callahan. Those cases involved allegations of choking, a restrained victim and the two young men assisting each other in one of the assaults. The two men are each facing six high-level sexual assault counts that each carry a penalty of 16 to 48 years to life in prison in the latter case.
The cases against Callahan — who, like the teen, is being held in the Pitkin County Jail — continue to move through the court system.
The teen also was charged as a juvenile for allegedly assaulting a 5-year-old girl when he was 15.
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Ron Braden, the town of Vail’s former IT director, was a no-show in district court Thursday morning for preliminary hearings and first appearances in multiple criminal cases against him.