Love, American Style

Illegal immigrant Jon Vaupel is not from Mexico, but he's a borderline case.

But Vaupel had a little trouble explaining what he'd said to Stanton when the undercover cop asked how Vaupel would get word that the job was done: "That's fine, I mean, I'm sure I'll find out."

In his closing argument, Griffin told the jury that there were two ways to look at this situation. One was a straightforward explanation of a hit man for hire. The second was a complicated story about how Vaupel had wanted a private investigator and misunderstood the whole thing. When there are two stories, the prosecutor said, the simple one is usually the true one.

"The simple solution here is that this is a murder for hire," Griffin told the jurors, pointing out that Vaupel had never said he didn't want his wife killed, and that Stanton had testified that he was 100 percent confident that Vaupel wanted Schwab dead.

Jon Vaupel
Jon Vaupel

As for Sturm, "he's a bad apple, he is, there's no getting around that," Griffin said. "And that's exactly the person Mr. Vaupel went to. What Mr. Vaupel did is as clear a case of solicitation as you can find."

In his closing, defense attorney David Beller talked about the facts of the case, "facts Hollywood could have written. And the hero in their facts is David Sturm, David bank-robber Sturm, David do-gooder Sturm, David federal-deal Sturm.

"This is a plan cooked up by David Sturm and then knowingly perpetuated by Officer Stanton," Beller continued. "They have all the burden [of proof], and they have not met them. Find him not guilty."

Soon after the jurors were sent off to deliberate, they requested the tapes that Stanton had made. Despite the defense's objections, the judge sent the tapes in.

After eight hours of deliberation that stretched into the next day, the jury came back with its verdict: Not guilty.

Until they heard the tape again, eight jurors had been ready to convict, says juror Rick Paulson. But after they listened to it, some changed their minds. "You can't hammer a guy into the ground on evidence like that," explains Paulson. "It's not that we all wanted to let him go. He was no angel and probably guilty of something, but they didn't prove it. There were words that were on the tape, but they didn't connect the dots."

On March 16, for the first time in seventeen months, Vaupel left a courthouse a free man. "For once, I have seen some justice in this system that has been so unjust," he said.

One of his first stops was the Westword office, where he vowed to take legal action against the federal government, Mario Ortiz and Adams County. And he talked about how Sturm had set him up. "It didn't strike me at the time, but now, he was just too friendly with me, he didn't want to sit and chat with everybody else, just me," Vaupel said. "But he got me to trust him; he was like my best buddy in there."

Vaupel's life on the outside didn't last long. The federal government still had a hold against him for being in the country illegally, but somehow that order was misplaced. When the feds and Adams County recognized the mixup, they tracked Vaupel down with the help of the Australian consulate -- and nine or ten agents, Vaupel says.

Once again, Vaupel is sitting in the immigration detention facility in Aurora. Because he overstayed his original humanitarian parole and has a history of overstaying the ninety-day limit, he would be subject to removal even if his then-wife hadn't withdrawn her sponsorship, explains Carl Rusnok, ICE spokesman. "Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a final order of removal for him -- and, as such, we can remove him as soon as we have travel documents," he says.

But the government could use prosecutorial discretion in this case, suggests Elizabeth Higgins, Vaupel's former immigration attorney. Vaupel's petition to stay in the country as a victim of domestic violence is still pending. Higgins says that her office recently got a call from the center that processes such applications to say that Vaupel's petition had been lost. It has since been re-submitted.

"Are we living in some Third World country where files disappear and people are imprisoned for a year and a half when the only crime they've committed is disorderly conduct?" Higgins asked in a letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Center. "Is this what happens to a potential immigrant who gives an immigration official a hard time? Why has there been no public report issued or conclusion to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Professional Responsibility investigation? Where is the accountability?"

"There is an internal review on allegations of impropriety," CIS's Rummery says regarding the Ortiz report. "We have not seen a copy of it yet."

Meanwhile, Ortiz, who declined comment for this story, is back at work in Denver. Nearby, Vaupel is still behind bars.

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