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Week in Review

More than two years after arson fires were set to four buildings in Rifle, the man accused of setting them is going to prison.Robin Jay Clifton, 48, entered guilty pleas Thursday in two cases linked to his setting those fires on Sept. 5, 2005. The blazes caused more than $1.5 million in damages.In an unexpected and unannounced move, Clifton pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree arson; one count each of aggravated motor vehicle theft and indecent exposure, plus other charges resulting in his sentencing as a habitual criminal.Ninth Judicial District Judge Denise Lynch sentenced Clifton to 24 years in prison. Clifton received additional, lesser sentences to run simultaneously. He also gave up rights to appeal, and prosecutors have a 90-day time period to file a motion for restitution. Clifton, who was arrested on April 7, 2006, has credit for 544 days in jail already served.”Two years ago and over $1 million later the city of Rifle woke up to fire alarms and plumes of smoke,” Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cheney said.He said Rifle lived in fear of an arsonist on the loose for some time and that the victims could never be made whole.”They woke up the next day and they had nothing but pain,” Cheney said.

Jesus Hernandez de Jesus has more time to decide if he’ll plead guilty to second-degree murder or face a first-degree murder charge at trial.Hernandez de Jesus, 33, was expected to enter a plea Wednesday after previously waiving his right to a preliminary hearing to consider the plea offer. But Public Defender Tina Fang asked for more time for him to consider the offer and discuss it with his family.”As the court can imagine, this is a very stressful situation – not only for him but for his entire family,” Fang said. “His family is a wreck, and this afternoon we were on the phone with some of them, and ‘hysterical’ is not putting it lightly.”Hernandez de Jesus is accused of shooting to death his 20-year-old nephew, Ricardo Navarrete Prudencio at the Ponderosa Cabins in West Glenwood Springs on June 25.If Hernandez de Jesus pleads guilty to second-degree murder, he would face a possible sentence of 16 to 48 years in prison. If he goes to trial and is found guilty of first-degree murder, he could face life in prison or even the death penalty.Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson said he appreciates the magnitude of the decision Hernandez de Jesus must make. But he added that he also must consider the needs of the community.

Harley “Dow” Rippy was sentenced to two years of probation for pleading guilty to a traffic offense more than a year after being accused of DUI and vehicular homicide.Rippy also received 60 hours of public service and there’s a 90-day period to file for restitution. Rippy must undergo an alcohol evaluation – and possible treatment – if his probation officer decides it’s necessary, said his attorney, Dan Recht.”I thought it was a reasonable sentence,” Recht said over the phone after the hearing. “The (Timothy) Curtiss family had wanted community service and the judge complied with their request and had Dow Rippy do community service. I think there is some healing for the Curtiss’ to know that their wishes were heard and that the judge is doing what they requested. And Dow, who has been devastated by this case from the very beginning, is very willing to do what the Curtisses wanted him to do.”Recht said Rippy didn’t wish to comment.Rippy previously pleaded guilty to the traffic offense of careless driving resulting in death.According to authorities, Rippy, 50 at the time, drove his 2006 Jeep Wrangler off County Road 344 about 14 miles south of Silt around 1 a.m. on Aug. 20, 2006. The Jeep went off the left side of the road, continued down an embankment and rolled onto its side. Timothy Curtiss, 41, was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.



The two top Garfield County community corrections officials recently ended their employment with the county, just months after a new corrections facility was opened in Rifle.The issue of the departures of community corrections director Guy Meyer and facility administrator Troy Bascom came up at a community corrections board meeting this week, but only briefly because it involves personnel matters, said board member Steve Reynolds.”It was discussed and squelched immediately. Nobody knows anything that’s not part of the bureaucratic group of the county,” he said.”The county just does not disclose the details of it,” he said.It remains unclear whether the departures were forced or voluntary.Dale Hancock, the county’s director of general services and Meyer’s former supervisor, would say little about the matter.”We had some turnover in the organization,” Hancock said.He confirmed that two community corrections positions are currently open.”If we are go to beyond that then we’re going into personnel issues,” Hancock said.

Despite a threat of legal action, Garfield County commissioners on Tuesday stood by their decision in April to rezone the former Bair Chase property for dense residential development.Their decision came after attorney Calvin Lee challenged whether proper notification of the meeting on the rezoning was made to the public and neighboring landowners.Lee raised the issue Tuesday as commissioners considered whether to authorize commission Chairman John Martin to sign the resolution related to the April decision.”I would say that you’re inviting a potential lawsuit here if the resolution is signed,” Lee said.Lee contends that prior notification of the April meeting pertained only to planned action commissioners might take because an existing planned unit development approval for the 282-acre property was lapsing. He said the notification didn’t indicate commissioners might change the underlying zoning.He urged commissioners to hold another hearing on the matter with proper notification, and noted that the new owners of the land have yet to submit a development proposal based on the new zoning.”There’s plenty of time for you to do the notice and get this done right,” Lee said.


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