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Zero to Life

Lisl Auman had met Matthaeus Jaehnig only that morning. By day's end, he and a cop were dead--and her life was over.

Auman's fingerprints were not found on the gun. Twining says no usable fingerprints at all were detected.

Demetria Soriano, Dion Gerze and Steven Duprey had pleaded guilty to the Jefferson County burglary long before Auman came to trial. Although any and all of them could have been charged under the felony murder law, their sentences were relatively light. Only Duprey, who violated parole on the day of the killing, is still in prison. According to Assistant District Attorney Chuck Lepley, the gun found on Duprey at his arrest was indeed the one used to shoot at Officer Greg Vacca. But after seeing Duprey in a lineup, Vacca was positive that he was not the gunman.

When asked about the other defendants' plea bargains, Twining responds that they "were not charged in this jurisdiction, and we had no communications whatsoever with them about anything that they were going to do about that. We were very careful not to be involved at all in their cases."

"The DA was anxious from the get-go," says Jim Dodd, Demetria Soriano's attorney. "[Denver Chief Deputy DA] Lamar Sims contacted me within 24 hours attempting to cut a deal to get her to provide information. They actually talked to her--the prosecution and the police--in advance of my being retained. It was a classic Monica Lewinsky kind of thing. She got told if she didn't help they'd come down on her pretty hard."

Both Gerze and Soriano testified at Auman's trial. But for the most part, their version of events jibed with hers.

Lisl's family and friends found the atmosphere in the courtroom intensely intimidating. Michael Jackson, who spoke as a character witness, was astonished when Judge Nancy Rice made a joke about his name. "Michael Jackson?" he remembers her saying. "I thought we'd already tried him."

"My hands were already sweaty," says Jackson. "The jury laughed. The cops were laughing. I had to bite my tongue and just sit there."

Other friends speak of police glaring at them, blocking the doorway so they could not leave the courtroom until all of the officers had exited.

Some witnesses, standing outside in the corridor, were surprised to hear police officers discussing their experiences on the stand. "I was told you're not supposed to talk to any other witnesses," says one. "But they'd say to each other, 'Well, what did you say? What kind of questions did they ask?'"

Given the devastating impact of her videotaped police interview--which the jurors viewed--it might have helped her case for Lisl herself to testify, particularly since duress was an important factor in her defense. Kruse will not say why she did not put her client on the stand. She may have hesitated to let Lisl testify because of her poor performance on the police videos; she may have felt that the defense was sufficiently compelling without Lisl's testimony.

It wasn't. The jury found Lisl guilty of felony murder. In accordance with the law, they had not been told before they deliberated that a felony murder conviction would mean a mandatory life sentence.

A few days later, Lisl Auman was sentenced to spend the rest of her life in prison.

That sentence haunts one juror, who found the DA's witnesses and presentation unconvincing. "I'm thinking there is no way anybody is going to convict this girl of felony first-degree murder," says juror Linda Chin. "I almost felt sorry for the district attorneys." But in the jury room, Chin found herself in the minority. The discussion was legalistic, hewing closely to the definition of felony murder and whether Auman's actions fit that definition. Most of the jurors seemed to find the weapon-passing argument less than credible, but they also did not believe that Lisl had tried to escape from Jaehnig's car. Slowly, Chin became convinced it was her duty to hang the jury.

"But the next day--I guess I started thinking, 'Am I going to be the only person here that the whole city of Denver and the police department know wouldn't vote for conviction?'" Chin remembers. "The night before, I was sure I could do it."

The jurors decided to watch Lisl's second videotaped interview with the police again. There she was, her voice flat and gravelly, lying about Jaehnig's name, the color of his car. "I just lost my desire to keep fighting," says Chin, her eyes filling with tears. The jurors took another vote, and this time Chin voted guilty.

"Within thirty minutes, I regretted it," she says. "Even when they were polling the jury, it flashed through my mind: I wonder what would happen if all of a sudden I said, 'No--I've changed my mind.'"

Herbert Greenberg, a retired University of Denver professor who served on the jury, felt that Twining had successfully assembled all of the elements required to prove felony murder. And although he did not believe that Auman had passed the gun to Jaehnig, he found the defense's contention that the police had lied profoundly distasteful.

Two weeks after Lisl Auman's trial ended, Judge Nancy Rice was appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court by Governor Roy Romer.

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1 comments
aerien27
aerien27

hahaha....Denver skins... what shit, they laughed at the skins and the skins only wished to be like Matthaeus

 
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