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?

Although Beckius told her at the time that the plea was dishonest, Nick does not know precisely what he meant -- that he hadn't been present at the crime at all, or that he had been there but played a smaller role than the plea indicated. "There were times when he broke down and showed real sorrow for what had happened," she says. "Told me he didn't know anyone was going to get hurt and how horrible he felt about the man's family."

Like Tim and Carrie and Josh's grandparents, Bob and Eloise Beckius, Ellishae Elliott felt pressured by Furman. "He told me that I should tell Josh it would be better to plead guilty because he'd probably do less than six years on good behavior," she remembers. "He didn't want to. He got forty years anyway.

"He always has told me it wasn't true. He has always said he wasn't there."

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.

Under Colorado law, there is a three-year period from the time of sentencing during which a prisoner can challenge a plea bargain. Boulder attorney Neil Silver received a letter from Beckius three weeks before that time was up; Beckius had learned of Silver through a friend of his father's.

In April 1999, Silver filed a motion on Beckius's behalf; last fall, Judge Daniel Hale ruled that Furman's files should be turned over to Silver, paving the way for a hearing this June that will determine whether Beckius can withdraw his plea.

Silver's motion stressed Furman's lack of preparation and his dependence on the Boulder County District Attorney's Office for all of his information. "No attempts were made on Mr. Beckius's behalf to interview witnesses, to investigate leads, or to reveal potential weaknesses in the prosecution's case. No pretrial investigation was conducted independent of that conducted by the prosecution," it said. "Had an investigation been conducted, several discrepancies and blatant lies would have been revealed prior to a sixteen year old boy pleading guilty to a charge of Second Degree Murder based on the advice of an uninformed defense attorney."

In his response, District Attorney William Nagel said that once Beckius had confessed to Furman on March 15, Furman was under no obligation to investigate further. And after that date, Nagel pointed out, Beckius had not only described his role in the crime to various people but had expressed a desire to "take responsibility" for it.

Of course he had, Silver responded: Beckius had been told this would influence the judge and get him a lighter sentence. The district attorney's rationale "appears to be circular," Silver wrote in his response. "Because Mr. Beckius pled guilty, he should not be allowed to withdraw his plea of guilty."

It would have taken only one phone call to ascertain that Sheldon Rosentreader was in prison on the night of the murder -- and with that revelation, most of the evidence against Beckius dissolves. Not only was Rosentreader one of the chief witnesses against him, but every other eyewitness who put Beckius on the scene put Rosentreader there, too.

By the time Pa and Beckius were arrested, the Basemar crime was two years old. Pa seemed to have been bragging about it nonstop in the meantime, so it was hardly surprising that his acquaintances knew details that hadn't been released to the press -- the number of shots, the fact that James's body had been found in his office -- or that they would have discussed the event in detail among themselves. There's no way of knowing why so many of them lied, but more than one CBC member admitted to being deathly afraid of Charlie Pa; a couple had received threatening notes or phone calls from him. There was also intense rivalry and jockeying for position within the gang, and in their police interviews, Pa and Garcia revealed strong animosity toward Beckius. (Cason Garcia, tested for mental competence in connection with a 1999 felony, was found to have an IQ of around 61.)

The same month Beckius was sentenced, Saliman Yep retracted an earlier confession and denied having been present on the night of the crime. That leaves only Joel Burbas, who said he met the group in a supermarket and heard Beckius say "we shot the old man," and Robert Monroe, who expressed interest in the reward money before saying Beckius had confessed to him. There are also fragmentary and contradictory bits of hearsay.

And, finally, there's the puzzling fact that Beckius had called to find out if he'd been wearing an ankle bracelet on the night of the murder. If he was present at the crime, wouldn't he have known it? Was he so drunk and stoned that he simply couldn't remember? Is he a pathological liar, able to actually convince himself that he wasn't where he was? Or could it be that when Beckius told police over and over again he wasn't guilty, he just might have been telling the truth?

It's impossible to tell if the gang colluded to frame Beckius. But in a different context, Charlie Pa made some revealing comments to police. He had consistently maintained that Beckius killed Dayton James and was asked why, if he was the gang leader, he hadn't done the shooting himself. "In our gang it don't work like that," he explained. "The small guy, the one that's supposed to be going in there do the job, get it done and over with...And I supposed to be sit on the table, cross my leg, Hey, you did it. Good job...

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