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?

Pa, whose actual age was unknown but was placed somewhere between nineteen and 22, grew up under the brutal tutelage of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He was well-known to police as a troublemaker. But the detectives knew Wolverton, too, and they worried about his credibility as a witness. He drank heavily and had been arrested several times. The police report said Wolverton's belongings were "extremely pungent." It also wryly noted that Wolverton claimed horned owls came to sit on his shoulder when he visited the Boulder mall. (Police might have found this less amusing if they'd remembered that the Aurora-based Raptor Foundation routinely showed the great birds on the mall at that time -- although they were never allowed to perch on passersby.)

But there was no physical evidence in James's murder -- no fingerprints, no gun to match the bullets, no casings found in the manager's office. The police delayed making an arrest.

That May, an anonymous tipster called police and said Charlie Pa had phoned his ex-girlfriend and spoken over the phone to her current boyfriend -- who happened to be Joshua Beckius. Pa told Beckius he had committed the murder. "The new boyfriend did question him about the weapon used," the police report stated, "as if he did not believe Charlie."

Josh at thirteen in uniform.
Josh at thirteen in uniform.
Tim Beckius, Carrie Milici and Josh Beckius in May 1997.
Tim Beckius, Carrie Milici and Josh Beckius in May 1997.

Interviewed by police, Beckius confirmed that Pa had told him three times about the killing. He said Pa had been accompanied to the movie house by another gang member named Juan Rodriguez, and he offered to meet Pa himself, wearing a wire for police. Beckius described Charlie Pa as a violent man who picked fights at the Crossroads Mall, kept a plastic grocery bag half full of bullets in his car, boasted of shooting a cop in California and periodically threatened to kill his ex-wife in Niwot.

"What do you think about this murder?" the police interrogator asked Beckius.

"It makes me sick just...don't feel right," Beckius said, adding that it made him fear Pa would "end up killing me or somebody else, one of my friends." Pa had threatened to "come by and do a drive-by on my parents. And that's 'cause I ran away (from home) and I wasn't getting along with my dad. And he says, 'I do it all the time,' and I told him no...

"He never sleeps," Beckius concluded.

In October 1994, police heard that two inmates at Boulder County Jail had information on the murder, and began taking statements. Cason Wayne Garcia, the CBC's second in command, said he had been at the Basemar Shopping Center on the night of the crime and had seen Charlie Pa, Joshua Beckius and two other gang members, Saliman Yep and Sheldon Rosentreader, arrive. Beckius and Pa had gone into the movie house immediately before the killing; afterwards, everyone had gone to the Skyland Motel on 28th Street to divide up the money.

Interviewed later, Garcia's wife confirmed that Rosentreader, Pa, Beckius and Yep were at Basemar on the night of the murder. She, too, said she saw the gang members dividing up money in a motel room afterwards.

Sheldon Rosentreader was the second inmate with information. At first, he said he had not been present at the crime, but that Pa had described the shooting to him when they were both incarcerated at the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. Police responded that they'd heard Rosentreader himself was a participant, and by February 1995, as the investigation closed in on Pa, Rosentreader changed his story. He had been there, he confessed. He had acted as a lookout. It was a "little Mexican guy" who entered the theater with Charlie Pa. Shown a photo lineup, he picked out Joshua Beckius. He gave other specific details. He remembered that he had bought a Dr. Pepper at Taco Bell. He put Saliman Yep behind the wheel of the getaway car.

"I'm really scared of Charlie Pa," he confided. "Very scared."

Police interviewed Yep and asked who had gone into the theater with Pa. "Some Spanish guy," answered Yep. The police officer produced a photograph of Beckius. "Is it this young Spanish guy there?"

"I think so," said Yep. "Yeah."

"Is that Josh Beckius?"

"Well, I guess, because I don't remember names."

"OK. But it's this guy here that went in with Charlie into the movie theater?"

"Yeah."

The guy was also known as "the Joker," Yep told investigators.

A month after the original interviews with Garcia and Rosentreader, Charlie Pa himself, by this point also an inmate in Boulder County Jail, decided he wanted to talk -- but only if he could refresh his memory first by discussing the event with Cason Garcia. Police obliged, and Pa and Garcia were interviewed at the same time. "You and Josh went into the theater together and robbed the guy," Garcia said helpfully to Pa at one point. Pa agreed, and accused Beckius of actually pulling the trigger. He himself had run from the theater on hearing shots, he said, with Beckius about two minutes behind him.

Confronted with Michael Wolverton's testimony that he'd seen Pa -- and only Pa -- running, and that Pa had been carrying a gun, he acknowledged that he had been holding a weapon. And Beckius had reached the car first, Pa said. But that was only because he himself had bad ankles.

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