An editorial to DA Caloia: Stop making things worse
We’d like, at this point, to urge Sherry Caloia to be merely a caretaker of the 9th District Attorney’s Office until Jan. 10, when Jeff Cheney is sworn in as her successor. Move the necessary paperwork, but, please, Ms. Caloia, hold off on personnel decisions and discretionary plea bargains.
We considered calling for her early resignation, but decided against that out of concern it would create more turmoil for her staff and the justice system in Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.
If you’re not up to speed on Caloia’s performance since losing the election to Cheney on Nov. 8, we have three pieces of evidence that lead us to our request.
First, she struck a plea bargain with Matthew Ogden, who battered to death his month-old daughter in June 2015 in Parachute.
We understand that plea deals are necessary and the court system would grind to a standstill without them. We think, and said so in our editorial endorsing independent Chip McCrory for DA, that Caloia was criticized unfairly for her use of plea bargains.
That said, Ogden, according to his wife, grabbed their crying baby by the waist, yelled and shook the infant violently, then took her into the next room, from which the mother heard shouting, pounding and thumping. Baby Sarah finally went silent from being brutalized by her father. Ogden then brought his dying child back to bed and didn’t seek help for her. (A roommate called emergency workers the next morning.)
On Thanksgiving week, he agreed to plead guilty to reckless child abuse resulting in death, with a stipulation that he will be sentenced to 30 to 40 years in prison. That would allow Ogden to be a free man when he’s in his early 60s, perhaps sooner with “good time” earned in prison that would move up his parole eligibility.
Caloia told the Post Independent’s Ryan Summerlin she didn’t think she could prove the first-degree murder charge that would put Ogden away for life.
“We don’t have a real clear understanding of … whether this was some sort of accident, whether it was a reckless act or whether it was done intentionally,” she said. “And I don’t think we could have proved that it was done intentionally.”
The fact that the baby suffered multiple blunt force traumas and that Ogden took her to a second room to continue the beating may, in fact, not have been sufficient evidence to convict this despicable human of first-degree murder and put him away for life. You never know what a jury will find.
But we for sure do not care, as Caloia put it, that “Ogden is genuinely remorseful and will be sentenced to a very stiff sentence.”
As supportive as we are of the need for plea bargains, we want our district attorney to try like hell to put brutal baby killers in prison forever. Caloia’s office could have left the lesser charge as an option for the jury to ensure that Ogden wouldn’t walk.
The senior prosecutor in the case would have been Matt Barrett, a bulldog deputy DA who got a first-degree murder conviction this year in the case of Arturo Navarrete-Portillo, who killed his wife in Carbondale in February 2015. Barrett’s other successes included finally getting an embezzlement conviction in the oft-delayed case of Erin Pressler, and handling the resentencing of Robin McMillan, who ripped off the county clerk’s office.
Caloia fired Barrett on Friday with a five-sentence email asserting insubordination. The last sentence of the email (the second piece of evidence cited above) was a bizarre and seemingly bitter comment: “I am sure that Jeff will rehire you.”
Barrett had been an assistant DA under Caloia’s predecessor, when Cheney helped run the office.
We don’t know whether Barrett was insubordinate — he disputes the accusation.
In any case, given his key role in handling some of the office’s highest-profile cases and the fact that Caloia has only a month left in office, she could have suspended Barrett if she found it intolerable to work with him.
The office already is short on staff (third piece of evidence), which played out earlier last week in Pitkin County with another plea deal.
In that instance, the office plea bargained a theft case that involved selling fake New Mexico elk-hunting permits. Joshua Meacham could have faced jail time on one count of felony theft and one count of misdemeanor theft, but the plea deal recommended no incarceration.
Meacham was offered the deal because the DA’s office recently lost two experienced attorneys and didn’t have a lawyer available to cover the trial, Deputy DA Sarah Oszczakiewicz told The Aspen Times. Meacham would have had to agree to a continuance in order for a DA to cover the trial. If he didn’t agree, the case would have had to be dismissed under speedy trial rules, Oszczakiewicz said.
That was before Caloia’s abrupt firing of Barrett.
With holidays, Caloia doesn’t have much time left.
We think she’s hit bottom. It’s time for her to put down the shovel and stop digging.