By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
They were mistaken. By charging the youths with crimes of violence at the outset, the district attorney's office had made the defendants ineligible for boot-camp consideration -- even Richards, who'd supplied information used in the Clark's Market robbery but hadn't joined in the actual heist.
Hammond got three years in prison. Ognacevic and Richards got four each. They may be called to testify against Stefan Schutter, Anthony Rizzuto or Thomas Colver, whose trials on charges of armed robbery are still pending.
Moses Greengrass refused to identify his accomplices in the second robbery of Stage 3. A plea offer with a minimum four-year sentence was withdrawn, and suddenly Moses was facing a minimum of ten years. At his sentencing hearing, prosecutor Wills made a strong case that Moses was the epicenter of the entire youthquake, a principal in four armed robberies who was always quick to supply others with ideas and guns. Gary Lozow, the defendant's Denver attorney, lamented his client's "false concepts of loyalty."
A letter from Moses's mother asked where she had gone wrong. A letter from his father noted, "Moses consciously and admittedly chose to ignore my advice...I don't know what I could have done differently."
While a gallery of young female supporters looked on, a tearful Moses apologized to his victims, blamed his addictions -- and then abruptly conceded, "I don't really want to change. I like drinking and doing drugs."
Judge DeVilbiss gave him twelve years.
Assistant DA Wills has no trouble defending the prosecution's strategy or the sentences that were meted out. "In almost any jurisdiction," he says, "people in masks committing armed robberies is going to mean prison time. I don't see that we did anything differently."
In Aspen, though, there are sharp and often clashing opinions about the way the cases were handled. Some believe the sentences were too harsh, particularly for the first-time offenders. Others think the group got off easy, considering all the charges that were dropped and rumors of other criminal activities that were never prosecuted.
"The camps have been pretty evenly divided from the beginning," says Terry Lewis, a paralegal and friend of the Willes. "On one side were a lot of older people and men who thought it was all black and white, the kids need to be punished, throw away the key. On the other side were a lot of mothers, medical professionals, social-work types. I know a lot of people in the legal community who think this is not the answer."
Doubts linger about what parents knew and kept quiet about, or whether a much wider circle of kids may have been up to no good but didn't get caught, either because they were lucky or their families had some kind of "influence."
"The typical reaction right now is that this is about twelve bad families," says the mother of one of the defendants. "What a different conversation it would be if they knew how many kids were really involved in this. Some of the parents don't even know -- and don't want to know."
For those families whose kids were charged, she adds, the outcome has been more far-reaching than simply a court sentence. "This has destroyed my family, my business, my marriage, my reputation," she says simply. "Most people don't know what a felony is. My son will never be in a position of trust. He will never be hired by 90 percent of the organizations in this country. He will carry this the rest of his life, no matter what kind of person he turns out to be.
"People say to me, 'Your son got off easy.' I look at them and say, 'My son is screwed for life.'"
Mayor Richards declined to comment on her son's case, but she says she's encouraged by the way the community has rallied in support of youth programs and projects, including the construction of a new recreational facility and youth center in town and efforts to instill more ethics-oriented and mentoring programs in the school system. "A lot of parents are wondering, 'Am I spending enough time with my kids? Is this amount of freedom appropriate?' They're looking at ways to make kids feel valuable, to listen to them and lead by example," she says.
One of the most heated debates has been over the fate of Cody Wille. Based on comments investigators made during his police interviews, he and his mother say that they believed he would be treated as a juvenile, but his case was filed in adult court. Wills says his office made no promise of juvenile placement.
Facing a possibly lengthy prison term, Cody pleaded guilty to one count of robbery. Despite a strong show of support by family and friends at his hearing, and despite Cody's extensive cooperation in the investigation, Judge DeVilbiss sentenced him to five years in prison, with a catch: The five years would be waived if Cody successfully completed three years in the Youthful Offender System, the state's controversial "last-chance" program for violent teens.
Its own creators have attacked the viability of YOS, which has suffered tremendous staff turnover and high failure rates in recent years ("A Failure to Rehabilitate," December 2, 1999). The program poses particular problems for someone like Wille, a white boy from Aspen thrust into a peer culture dominated by inner-city gangbangers. While some of his co-defendants in the Clark's robbery could be up for parole in a matter of months, YOS offers no such breaks -- and few classes, Wille says, that are of any use to him.