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?

Josh says he found out about Tope's death from a newspaper clipping tucked into a photograph album he was looking through. His father, however, says the boy was present at Tope's memorial service. Josh admits that his memories of life before the age of ten are hazy. "Maybe I didn't want to remember," he says.

As he grew, it became clear that Josh was a gifted athlete, particularly in baseball. "He had great hands," says Tim, who at one point was assistant coach. "He made the all-star team every year." By contrast, Josh's attitude toward schoolwork was "a little shaky."

Tim got together with Carrie Milici when his son was twelve years old. Although Milici is a warm and nurturing woman, it was a difficult transition. Both Tim and Josh were reticent about sharing their thoughts; Josh was rarely home, defiantly pursuing a life of complete independence.

Life in the best lane: On February 17, Jim Lambert had his friends on pins and needles.
Life in the best lane: On February 17, Jim Lambert had his friends on pins and needles.
Dayton James died at the Basemar Cinema Savers on April 27, 1993.
Dayton James died at the Basemar Cinema Savers on April 27, 1993.

"Boy, I jumped in," Carrie says. "Dove in. Josh was just out and about. And I don't think he was used to having a mother role."

"And sharing me," says Tim.

Carrie nods. "It went from 'Dad' to 'my dad,'" she says. "I remember having a real face-off with him: 'I'm not going anywhere. I'm in love with your dad.'"

Josh does remember some good times: He and a friend once made Carrie a birthday cake out of pancake mix and chocolate frosting. But for the most part, "I just didn't accept her into my life," he says. "I already lost one real mom. I lost another lady that was like a mom to me. Why should I accept another female role model into my life?"

But Carrie was patient, and eventually they became close -- "I guess because she was there for me," says Josh. "Through everything I put her through and my dad through. She was always there."

Tim and Carrie witnessed Josh's tender side as well as his wildness. They talk about a Fourth of July trip on which they allowed Josh, then fourteen, to bring a girlfriend. He had bought a stuffed animal for this girl, they say, but fell asleep holding it himself.

Tim smiles. "We woke up in the morning, and he was all nestled up..."

"...With the teddy bear," chimes in Carrie. "He was trying to be this macho guy in front of his girlfriend. It was just precious."

But then there was the drug problem. And once Josh teamed up with Charlie Pa and his friends, "it was a free-for-all," says Carrie. "It was awful." She and Tim followed Josh to Crossroads Mall once and saw him hanging out with the group. The effect was "creepy," Carrie says. "I was actually very afraid."

Still, neither Tim nor Carrie imagined that Josh could be involved in anything like the Basemar murder. "Oh. No. No," says Carrie, when the subject comes up.

"It devastated us," says Tim, "that it was even possible."

Carrie remembers how upsetting it was to see James's family in court. "I was thinking he was much older, for some reason," she says. "And when I did the math and when I saw his family members, I realized he was the same age as my dad, or close -- and how I'd feel. But it's so hard. I mean, what do you say?"

Tim hopes and believes that prison has changed his son. Josh tells him and Carrie often, both verbally and in writing, how sorry he is for what he's put them through, he says.

"He always talks law," Tim adds. "It's pretty impressive."

"Well, it wouldn't be hard to impress us," Carrie says, laughing. Then, serious, she adds, "I think he's a lot more articulate because he's done so much thinking and reading. He knows how to express his feelings better. Which is huge." She looks at Tim, who says apologetically, "It's a Beckius trait."

"So now, Josh can teach his dad," Carrie continues, her voice teasing.

Because the Boulder Public Defender's Office was already representing Charlie Pa, an outside attorney was appointed to represent Josh Beckius. Patrick Furman had been teaching law at the University of Colorado since 1988, coming to academia from a career as a public defender in Denver. He is currently the director of the law school's Legal Aid Clinic.

Under the Boulder system, in which defendants are frequently offered pleas before being charged -- and therefore before they know the exact charges against them -- speed is of the essence. One of Furman's strongest cards in persuading Josh Beckius to take the plea was the state felony murder law, which says that anyone involved in a felony in which someone dies is as guilty of murder as the actual killer -- even if he or she did not intend to kill anyone, or was unaware that death was likely. If Beckius were charged with felony murder, went to trial and lost, the sentence would be life without the possibility of parole. (The same could have been true for the other participants, but Cason Garcia and Saliman Yep incurred lesser charges; Yep got six years and Garcia was sentenced to fewer than four.)

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