Can't Buy a Thrill

Aspen's bizarre crime spree sent some of its favorite sons to prison -- and left the town wondering what went wrong.

One requirement for advancement in the highly regimented program is to assume a "leadership" role. "I don't know how to talk to these guys here," Wille says. "I don't have any of their slang, their background. But I won't screw up. I'll do my time and get out."

At Cody's sentencing, Kim Wille delivered a guilt-ridden apology for her part in letting "these kids and the community down." Since watching her son struggle in YOS, though, she has turned her anger on the hypocrisy of the local justice system.

"I understand why the town wanted harsh sentences, but laws are being broken every day in Aspen," she says. "I know people who are dealing drugs and cheating on their taxes, sitting on barstools and then driving drunk, who expect a different standard for these kids."

Aspen school superintendent Tom Farrell visited several of the robbers in jail: "Every little kid in town knew who they were."The youngest of the Aspen robbers, Cody Wille was handed one of the harshest sentences. Now a resident of the state's Youthful Offender System, he turned eighteen last month.Raoul Wille (right), Cody's father, was a legendary risk-taker who died in the Himalayas. Following her son's arrest, Kim Wille (above) embarked on a quest to bring restorative justice programs to the Roaring Fork Valley.His first burglary was such a rush that Yuri Ognacevic agreed to be the wheel man on an armed robbery.Jacob Richards (top) helped Moses Greengrass (center) and others plan the Clark's Market robbery. Two weeks later, Wade Hammond (bottom) joined Greengrass in a similar robbery in Snowmass.
Aspen school superintendent Tom Farrell visited several of the robbers in jail: "Every little kid in town knew who they were."The youngest of the Aspen robbers, Cody Wille was handed one of the harshest sentences. Now a resident of the state's Youthful Offender System, he turned eighteen last month.Raoul Wille (right), Cody's father, was a legendary risk-taker who died in the Himalayas. Following her son's arrest, Kim Wille (above) embarked on a quest to bring restorative justice programs to the Roaring Fork Valley.His first burglary was such a rush that Yuri Ognacevic agreed to be the wheel man on an armed robbery.Jacob Richards (top) helped Moses Greengrass (center) and others plan the Clark's Market robbery. Two weeks later, Wade Hammond (bottom) joined Greengrass in a similar robbery in Snowmass.
The youngest of the Aspen robbers, Cody Wille was handed one of the harshest sentences. Now a resident of the state's Youthful Offender System, he turned eighteen last month.
Brett Amole
The youngest of the Aspen robbers, Cody Wille was handed one of the harshest sentences. Now a resident of the state's Youthful Offender System, he turned eighteen last month.

Over the past nine months, Kim has devoted much of her energy to trying to develop restorative justice programs in the Roaring Fork Valley -- programs that offer an alternative to traditional sentencing options, particularly for first-time offenders, with a focus on restitution to the victim and rehabilitation of the offender. The effort has raised her spirits and given her hope that something positive might come out of the dismal crime wave.

"In this valley, we think of ourselves as such a utopian culture -- so intelligent, so advanced," she says. "Well, it's time to open our minds to the fact that justice as we know it doesn't work. It's costly and punitive and doesn't truly help the victim or society. There's got to be a better way."

For his part, Cody has sent a series of letters back home, published in the Aspen Times, meditating on the senselessness of his crime; describing life on the inside, as seen by a bewildered first-timer; and commenting on the jaded and unrepentant nature of his fellow inmates. The response has been encouraging, he says: "People hang them on their refrigerators and discuss them with their kids. I want people to know that this could happen to anyone, and that I would do anything to take back last year."

But the letters have stirred criticism, too. Some skeptics have suggested that the mea culpas are a shameless bid for a reconsideration of his sentence, while others fret about the implications of Cody's continued notoriety. "Are we continuing to put him up on a pedestal by giving him all this recognition?" asks school superintendent Farrell. "It bothers me that these boys still get the recognition; every little kid in town knew who they were. Our valedictorians have never been front-page news. I know Cody's goal is an admirable one, to help other people, but I hope he focuses on himself first, that he pays his dues and comes back and makes a difference."

It's tempting to see in the robberies and their aftermath a parable of the old and new Aspen. In the old days, bad behavior by adolescents, even burglaries, was widely regarded as youthful hijinks or, at worst, a brief flirtation with delinquency, a rite of passage in this glitterburg.

These days Aspen is more ostentatious than ever. "It used to be, if you came to this town and you had money, the cool thing was to let no one know," says one longtime resident. "Now you flaunt it." It's also less forgiving of its homegrown criminal element. Yet the town's egregious wealth only seems to breed envy and spite, the why-not-help-ourselves attitude Nathan Morse described after his arrest. And the perps don't seem to see much difference between hijinks and armed robbery. ("At the time, I didn't think robbery was much worse than burglary," Yuri Ognacevic says. "I do now.")

Whether the punishment meted out to the wayward teens will have any tangible deterrent effect on them or anyone else is an open question. Last spring a string of juvenile burglaries in Glenwood Springs followed the Aspen youthquake, like an aftershock. Despite the hollow apologies, several of the Aspen defendants seem primarily remorseful about being caught.

"I wish I could tell you that my son has realized the error of his ways," says one of the parents. "He is still an extraordinarily angry young man. I wish I knew why. This is not over for these kids in any way."


Even before the robberies, everybody in Aspen knew who Cody Wille was. Except Cody Wille.

The night he robbed Clark's, Cody was wallowing in a sense of loss. His father's death. His mother's money problems. The impending departure of his closest friends. His biggest regret, he says, is that he didn't think more about what he still had, what could be lost in a few thrill-crazed seconds.

"These kids growing up in Aspen all their lives don't see how privileged they are," he says. "Like me. I took everything for granted. Now I've had a chance to see just how fortunate we were."

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