This Boy's Life

Joshua Beckius was only sixteen when he accepted a plea bargain for a crime he now says he didn't commit. Will the court let him take his case to trial?

But this was in early 1998, he says, and he hasn't been in trouble since. While still in solitary at CSP, he struggled to keep the shadows at bay. "I just deal with it," Beckius says, though when he first arrived at Boulder County Jail, simply being in the general prison population made him dizzy, nauseated and afraid. At CSP, he spent his time writing letters, watching television, listening to music and reading -- law books and spiritual material to "try to find another way of life. I haven't opened my heart fully to Jesus. I'm trying to work towards that, help grow my faith."

Drugs, he says, are a part of his past, and so is running with gang members.

After his June hearing, he hopes to be sent back to the less severe conditions of Buena Vista. But before he can go there, he must complete a ten-week televised anger-management course. It's a course he's begun three times but, because of various transfers, has never been able to finish.

Dayton James enjoyed managing the Basemar Cinema Savers in Boulder.
David Rehor
Dayton James enjoyed managing the Basemar Cinema Savers in Boulder.
The murder of Melanie Tope, shown with young Josh below, was one of many early tragedies.
The murder of Melanie Tope, shown with young Josh below, was one of many early tragedies.

Beckius is reluctant to talk about what he'd do if he won release. "I want my dad to cook me biscuits and gravy," he says. "I want a barbecue, ribs, steak, hamburgers. Red Robin's chicken fajitas." He doesn't know what profession he'd pursue: "It's kind of hard thinking about what I'm gonna do. I still have 35 years left."

But he does know he wants to be with his family -- his grandparents, his father Tim and Tim's girlfriend, Carrie Milici. "I've put them through far too much. I want to be out to...I guess...just show them that I love them."

For the first time in the course of the interview, his eyes moisten.

But when he's asked what he wants the public to know about him, the armor slides instantly back into place: "They can think what they want to think. I don't like to talk to people. My life is my life."

The killing of 61-year-old Dayton James shocked Boulder. Despite the media industry that's flourished surrounding the death of JonBenét Ramsey, murders are rare in Boulder, and this one seemed particularly cruel, random and senseless. James was closing up the Basemar Cinema Savers on the night of April 26, 1993, after showings of The Bodyguard and A Few Good Men, when apparently one or two teenagers knocked on the door. He let them in. At around 1 a.m., he was found by janitor Roger Anyon. James had been shot in the back of the head and again in the chest. The office safe was open, and police later determined that about $2,000 was missing.

"There he was laying out there all white and the stomach wasn't moving," a profoundly shaken Anyon told police. "Goddammit, he's too nice a guy. They didn't have to kill somebody for money like that...a little bit of money."

James's daughter Darcy Priola, who lives in Lakewood, was awakened by police at 6 a.m. At first, she thought they had come to the wrong place. "I kept telling my husband that, because they said Dayton Lee James, and his name's Dayton Leslie James, so I kept thinking they must have the wrong person," she remembers. "But eventually I got it...I do know I got sick. I threw up. Just once."

James's other daughter, Daytona Ferry, was living in California. Her husband received a call and rushed home from work to be with his wife. Daytona was in the shower when he came in. "I said, 'What are you doing home? Did you get fired?'" she recalls. "He says, 'No, just finish showering and I'll talk to you.' So I got out of the shower and then he came in and told me my dad got shot. I said, 'Well, is he okay?' He said, 'No, he's dead.'"

Daytona falls silent. "I just screamed," she says finally. "I screamed and screamed and couldn't stop."

The Cinema Savers building is located in the Basemar Shopping Center, a generally peaceful strip that also boasts a couple of restaurants, a secondhand bookstore, a liquor store, a dry cleaner, a specialty butcher and a Taco Bell. Questioned immediately after the murder, people working in the area remembered seeing a group of youngsters -- variously described as Asian and Mexican -- hanging out there on the night of April 26. A liquor-store employee felt sufficiently threatened to take the money from the cash drawer and put it in a safe; a woman working at the Subway sandwich shop locked the door. Later, some of these teens would identify themselves as members of a gang called CBC, which, according to whom you talked to, stood either for Crazy Boy Crips or Chinie Boy Crips.

There was one witness with direct information about the crime: A wheelchair-bound homeless man, Michael Wolverton, said he had heard shots and seen an Asian man running from the movie house holding a gun. The man had leapt a fence, some bushes and Wolverton's wheelchair and hurled himself into a car, which immediately sped away. Wolverton recognized the Asian as the man who had stolen a stereo from the car of a Taco Bell manager two days earlier. Shown a lineup of photographs, Wolverton picked out Chamroeun "Charlie" Pa.

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