I Know Nothing

German immigrant Peter Schmitz, artist to Denver's trust-funders, won't say who killed Greg Lopez. It isn't his only secret.

Breeden, however, had no interest in giving himself up. Officers discovered his body late on the evening of March 19 in the basement of his home in Denver's Belcaro neighborhood. Breeden had barricaded the doors and windows, shot and wounded his faithful dog, Gambo, and then turned the gun on himself. In his blood were high levels of alcohol and cocaine derivatives. Nearby, police found a handwritten note in which Breeden willed the bulk of his fortune to Sydney Stone. But it was the postscript that threw the case spinning in another direction. "P.S.," Breeden wrote, "I was not driving the vehical [sic]."

It wasn't until two days later, while hundreds of people were attending a funeral mass for Lopez across town, that Schmitz--accompanied by attorney Larry Sather--finally showed up at Denver police headquarters. Schmitz allowed himself to be photographed but made no statement to officers.

He and his girlfriend, hair stylist Ingrid Pfennig, then vanished into the woodwork, giving rise to speculation that Schmitz had left the United States and returned to Germany.

Stymied by Schmitz's refusal to cooperate, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter called for a grand jury investigation into the accident. Soon thereafter, Pfennig's mother, Maria Pfennig, told a DA's investigator that Schmitz had admitted to her that he was behind the wheel of the BMW when it hit Lopez's vehicle. Maria Pfennig declined to be interviewed by Westword.

Sather was furious when he learned that reporters had seen Pfennig's affidavit, which had been mistakenly left unsealed when filed with the court. Sather claimed the leak caused "irreparable" harm to the grand jury investigation, despite the fact, he told reporters, "that all the physical evidence and all the other witnesses place Spicer Breeden behind the wheel."

Chief Deputy District Attorney Lamar Sims, who is presenting the Lopez case to the grand jury, will not say if or when he plans to subpoena Schmitz. But even if he does, it will do little good. Sather says his client will not address the jury unless he is given immunity--a demand that the prosecution is unlikely to meet. Possible indictments against Schmitz could range from vehicular homicide to accessory to vehicular homicide or leaving the scene of an accident. The jury could also choose not to indict Schmitz at all.

Although the grand jury continues to meet to discuss the case, sources believe an end may be in sight. Sather himself believes that the jury will investigate the matter only through the first week in June.

While Schmitz maintains a low profile--he is said to be keeping a vigil beside the pool at the Westin Tabor Hotel--speculation continues about the reasons for his continued silence.

Some people believe that Schmitz refused to cooperate because of fears that his visa would be revoked. And revocation is a genuine possibility. Schmitz's divorce ruled out his ability to seek citizenship on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen, although he later applied for an extension based on employment in a field that few Americans could fill. (An Immigration and Naturalization Service official says Schmitz received the extension because of his claim that he was employed teaching German at a language institute.)

Schmitz's work-related extension expired in late 1994, however, and local INS officials say they are uncertain if his visa is still valid. Those officials say his status is presently under investigation.

Schmitz's supporters say their friend has been "villainized" by the media, though they don't provide an explanation for his inaction in the days after Lopez was killed. "He is such a lighthearted, easygoing guy," McGuigan says. "I really feel like he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"He's the greatest guy. He really is," adds Uhl. "He's really been caught in a bad situation."

Schmitz's former brother-in-law has even approached a local restaurateur about the possibility of hosting a benefit to raise money for Schmitz's legal defense. The restaurateur says he politely declined.

There is an element of self-pity in Schmitz's demeanor about the situation in which he now finds himself. "No one knows what actually went on but me," he says. "People forget that I lost my good best friend over it."

Schmitz does not mention the name of Greg Lopez.

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