A Colorado teen sentenced to forty years gets a second chance

Also read: Josh Beckius was sentenced to prison at sixteen -- but sixteen years later, he has a second chance

Josh Beckius is in search of redemption. That's a word that comes up regularly when he talks about his life.

At the age of sixteen, Beckius was charged with the murder of Dayton Leslie James, a night-time manager of the Baseline Cinema Savers in Boulder. The crime, which had occurred two years earlier, in 1993, was one of those stupid, vicious, random events that make people question the benevolence of the universe, and it shocked relatively crime-free Boulder. James was a kindly man, a ballroom dancer who had survived an abusive childhood to raise two loving daughters. He had worked with abused children himself and served as a Big Brother, and he was known to let homeless people into the Cinema Savers for free. The movie house was targeted for robbery by a drug-dazed and incoherent gang whose members called themselves — depending on whom you asked — either the Crazy Boy Crips or the Chinie Boy Crips, most of them teenagers, led by Cambodian refugee Chamroen (Charlie) Pa, whose age no one could pin down, but who was thought by police to be in his early twenties. Beckius, then fourteen, ran with the group. During the course of the robbery, which netted around $2,000, Pa shot James twice, in the chest and the back of the head. A welter of confused and often contradictory testimony — a key component of which turned out later to be false — placed Beckius in the cinema with Pa.     Colorado's felony murder statute states that if a death occurs during the commission of a crime, anyone involved — whether the driver of a getaway car or someone who once conspired with the perpetrators, even if he later backed out — is guilty of first-degree murder, regardless of intent. Beckius's court-appointed attorney, Patrick H. Furman, was aware that this statute could send the teenager to prison for life with no chance for parole, and he felt that speed was of the essence: Charlie Pa was in custody, and whichever defendant agreed first to a plea would get the better deal. Prosecutor Pete Hofstrom accompanied Furman on his first visit to see Beckius, and the two had already hammered out a deal even though no charges had yet been formalized. After a few days of adamant denial, a highly emotional Beckius pleaded guilty to serving as a lookout for Pa.

Dayton James's daughter, Darcy Priola, was present at the sentencing hearing, and she read the court a letter she had written: "Joshua is heartless for doing what he has done. I know he said he had a bad childhood, but so did my dad, and so have a lot of people.... The crimes which he has committed should be punished for a very long time. As far as I'm concerned, a long time will never be enough time for taking my dad from me."

Beckius was sentenced to forty years and sent to the Buena Vista Correctional Complex, an adult facility. (Pa received a sentence of 48 years.) "I thought prison was going to be my life," Beckius says today. "I was in the mind frame that I was just going to die in there."

*****

Josh Beckius is sitting in a Boulder coffee shop, holding a cup of espresso. He has never tasted espresso before, and he's surprised that the cup is so small and the coffee so bitter. But he likes it. Now 32 years old, Beckius has been given a second chance. He is living at Denver's Peer 1, a residential facility that houses men who have criminal histories and a record of substance abuse. He has a job at a tire company and spends weekends with his family. Grateful to be outside prison walls, Beckius is anxious to experience as many new things as he can.

He sets down his cup. There is no special treatment for juveniles sent to adult prisons, he explains. "It was pretty much, 'You were charged and sentenced as an adult, you were sent here, and you're on your own.' The guards didn't go out of their way to ensure your safety. Some guys that have been locked up fifteen, twenty years kind of explain the ropes. One of the things I was taught by them: Don't let anyone disrespect you. People look at you as pretty much weak and an easy target, and that's one thing that you don't want to put out."

Beckius got into fights. He continued to use drugs. "I just didn't care," he remembers. "I didn't care about myself. I didn't care about my life. For the first four or five years of my incarceration I was constantly in trouble, constantly being sent to segregation for twenty to thirty days...until they pretty much got fed up with me and sent me to CSP."

The Colorado State Penitentiary is a high-tech maximum-security prison, and Beckius spent the next three and a half years in solitary confinement, living in a six-by-eight-foot cell where the light was never turned off, allowed one hour a day to exercise alone in a concrete yard. The prisoners were able to yell to each other through the doors, but Beckius rarely joined the cacophony. He did have books and television, and he could see the outside through a long slit of a window. Most important, there were bi-weekly visits from his father and stepmother, Tim and Kathy Beckius, conducted through a glass partition. In his cell, he watched sports, educational programs and the History and Military channels, wrote letters and a journal, and read the Denver Post every day, "to keep up with what was going on in the world," he says. "It was kind of weird and ironic. But I wanted to be given an opportunity to prove that I belonged back out here, that I'm not just some monster that deserves to be locked away for life."

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46 comments
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fdasgasdg

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RightasRain
RightasRain

Redemption should (almost) always be an option. The fact is that the criminal justice system in this country is extrememly wayward, especially when it comes to juveniles. We say a child is not an adult until 18, but the state can charge them as adults. It makes no sense. On top of that, we're packing prisons full of people who have drug problems and mental health issues that would cost far less to treat than to incarcerate. Kudos to programs such as Peer I. Hopefully stories like Josh's will become the norm not the exception.

Cbiriajon
Cbiriajon

Josh Beckius saw the truth inside of himself inside of a 6 by 8 foot cell. Smart kid. Inside and outside of prison, there will always be those full of hate and empty personal lives wanting to see more revenge and violence to perpetuate.

Red_Eye_Girl
Red_Eye_Girl

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Randolph Lee
Randolph Lee

What kind of idiot law maker writes a law that encourages people not to back out of conspracies??? We need a constitutional amendment that adresses beligerent nonsense like this. Another one: in California if you realize that you're too drunk to drive, whatever you do, don't pull over to sleep it off. A cop sees you sleeping, smells the booze, and you're busted for "driving" under the influence. Nope, just keep going and try to make it home in one piece. Idiots!

RyanJohnSmith
RyanJohnSmith

He didn't pull the trigger

Everyone deserves a second chance.

Cherie Melton
Cherie Melton

my classmate's step-mother makes $75 an hour on the laptop. She has been laid off for 6 months but last month her income was $8148 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Here's the site http://tinyurl.com/6lefh7f

fangfang
fangfang

Josh Beckius - Your new life is waiting for you. You are not alone.

Half_the_Man_I_Used_to_Be
Half_the_Man_I_Used_to_Be

It can make Vitamin D out of sunlight and you can get away with murder.

White skin: Is there anything it can't do?

Risingmoon_01
Risingmoon_01

"...but if it wasn't for those experiences, I don't think I would be the person that I am today. And I like who I am today."

I know this statement... I've said it myself, so many times...It's something that is said by a person who, at a previous time, wouldn't have been able to say the same thing.

ZZ
ZZ

I've known Tim and Kathy since 1996 and have heard them speak of this topic often. This is such a breakthrough for them. They are very good people and I am glad things are beginning to work out.

Raymond
Raymond

Juliet, A story well written and in the reading of this story about a man I came to know when I hired him to work where I worked, I found it a pleasure to speak with him. Having been amazed at the advances in the criminal justice system over the years, my research prompted me to first contact you about this story because I could feel inside that this was someone who let the system help him. Josh is proof positive that if somebody wants to make changes in their life they can. Shortly, I will complete my Masters Degree in Criminal Justice and must say that I am inspired by Josh. I applaud him and the Colorado Department of Corrections on a job well done.

Ray MalletteBenson, Vermont.

calhounp
calhounp

we'd like to publish some of these comments in our print letters to the editor section, ideally with your name/town. If that's okay, e-mail patricia.calhoun@westword.com

Bill
Bill

Goog too hear he is doing so well, but what about the person he killed. What about the family who loved and respected him? There is no sorrow for him in this article. Society did not let him down, he let him self down.

Melissa Franko
Melissa Franko

on fire you are not alone.Hanging out with the wrong people is a learning experience for the majority of young people.It landed me in jail when i was 18yr.luckily the police knew i didnt know the man i was hanging with and let me go,but my girlfriend was on probation so it wasnt that easy for her.young people never think this will happen to them.Be careful of the crowd you hang with.

Rkade5150
Rkade5150

Hmmm I was wondering if you were a giant d-bag, turns out you are.... Thanks for clearing that up Midorie.

On Fire
On Fire

Felony murder is bullsh*t.

I remember one night when I was 14. My friends and I were being harassed at a local coffee shop by a bunch of older kids. It was my first night out after moving to Denver and I barely knew the people I was with. All of a sudden one of the guys in my group pulled out a gun and tried to hand it to me under the table, looked at me and said, "if they make a move." I didn't take the gun, but if the guy I was with had decided to use it, I would have rotted for a couple of decades...for sitting there. I was stupid for hanging out with those kids and I didn't hang out with them again. I got lucky. Beckius didn't.

I'll say it again: Felony murder is bullsh*t

On Fire
On Fire

Beckius didn't kill anyone. He got caught up as a lookout for a robbery that went bad. Saying that he should spend most of his life in prison for being there when someone else pulled a trigger is like saying that I'm a victim because I know someone who was sexually assaulted. What Beckius did was wrong, but holding him responsible for murder is just ridiculous.

T Go
T Go

I Worked at that same place where he is staying, in the Peer 1 therapeutic community, right next to the Fort Logan mental health services hospital. AS a former case manager of those inmates there, there were only a couple of the inmates who had murder charges that were 25-30 years back. With that, those men had been removed 25-30 years out of our society and were in a massive state of shock, confusion and in denial as to there awareness of what our society has become. This half-way house is designed to whip him into shape and get him used to a hierarchy structure of responsibility and accountability, of both his peers and the outside. This is a military style of discipline designed to gain the maximum amount of response out of the indivdual. I've seen scores of people who'd dropped out of the program, serving a couple to a few years in jail, because they couldn't handle the discipline, preferred to "do their time" instead, because it was easier. Getting through this program says something about this man's commitment to moving on with his life.

But It's going to take the rest of his life getting used to being an adult outside of the big house.

This guy has lost most of his social life, being locked away as he is in great need of being socially re-developed. He still has the grace of youth on his side, but he will never become "normal". IIt's going to take a lifetime of therapy to get him conformed into the real world we're in. He will always be living in an incarcerated mindset, one that is based on basic survival and prison behavior. That bit on him sitting in the coffee shop, was a big deal for him - One that most people reading this story would think "Why the hell is he at a starbucks, blocks away from the scene of the crime he committed almost 20 years ago?!?"Certainly this is the case of the family of the slain victim. And I agree, the victim can't get another chance, why does he? He is extremely lucky that he has had the opportunity to work at a tire shop. THat's probably as good as his life is going to get.

This guy is the classic example of a youth who's had no parents there to provide his guidance. No one taught him right or wrong, he only learned survival based out of anger and fear. His parents should have been brought on charges for his crimes. No one ever talked about that??That is the real injustice here. How a teenager can commit unthinkable crimes and the parents, who are solely responsible for this guy's developement aren/weren't ever in question.

We need to start focusing as much energy on the source of the problem and not only focusing on the after-the-fact effects of the crime committed. My heart goes to the daughters of that man killed, I hope they came to a place in their hearts of forgiveness, acceptance, and resolution.

Justsayin
Justsayin

or if you didn't actually kill someone you don't have to do the time either.

Kitanmo
Kitanmo

I hope you walk a very straight road......for one day, you may need a friend when everyone else says "he made a bad choice, f**k him"

Timothy Hearn
Timothy Hearn

It blames all of its lifes problems on someone else and turns Everything into something Racial...Half_the_man_I_used_to_be: What more pseudo-clever statements can I make and have people actually l'like' them.

Cheap & Easy
Cheap & Easy

It can't make you dance, jump, or think rationally. Good luck, and stay away from those submarines with the screen doors.

JoshC
JoshC

OJ got away with murder, but he can't turn sunlight into vitamin D. Must have been a fluke.... moron

BIKESRULE
BIKESRULE

Yeah Black skin only gets you elected president. and lets you win the Nobel Peace prize for nothing. That brown skin is nice too. Had a niebor got drunk shot up the other neibors house (wrong house he intended even, this one just had a white family and nobody got hurt in 17 rounds) and only spent 2 weeks in jail total was considered a PV for the Felony porole he was already on. Sure am glad only white skins are the only ones that have a rasism problem.

On Fire
On Fire

White skin can also get you elected district attorney so you can send all the children of color to prison.

On Fire
On Fire

So high minded. Go see your local district attorney. They'll get you deputized for the lynch mob that they call "justice." ...that is if you aren't a member of COVA already.

On Fire
On Fire

Bill:

I'm not sure we're reading the same article. There is a great deal of sympathy expressed in this article for Mr. James. I, personally, am deeply moved by Mr. James story and I regret that his life was taken. The man who took his life is serving a very long prison sentence.

That man was not Josh Beckius. In fact, Josh Beckius wasn't a man at all when Mr. James' life was taken. He was a child who served 18 years in adult prison for his negligible role in a botched robbery.

A jolt of realism
A jolt of realism

Easy way to avoid this....don't hang out with criminals. You act like your situation is common and could happen to anyone. The truth is that it isn't and it couldn't. And you obviously don't understand felony murder. It doesn't apply to people who are just "sitting there." But please, don't let a complete lack of knowledge prevent you from ranting. Most people do not.

Risingmoon_01
Risingmoon_01

Ok, you capitalize "Black", but not "president". Your spelling is atrocious (in this day of automatic spell check, a second ago I wasn't sure about how to spell "atrocious", and LOOK, I got it right AGAIN!), but yet we're supposed to take the context of what you're saying as intelligent (spell check working hard today...).

Now that I'm done being a grammar Nazi.

WTF does your neighbors legal issues have to do with this jackass being an obvious racist? The only correlation that I see is the one you are drawing between their (assumed) skin color.

Racism is an issue every "skin color" has, and if y'all were to pay a little attention to the fact, it goes beyond that. Fear, jealousy, and stupidity are the real culprits, and as long as people keep playing "racist" games, they're showing exactly what they're really made of.

(And just so it's clear, I'm a little bit o' everything, call me what you will. Doesn't matter because I'll know the truth of the situation.)

On Fire
On Fire

How many people have you hung out with who told you they were criminals? Or who even saw themselves that way? Kids, in particular, don't always have a good sense of the intentions of those they befriend.

Should we just tell them not to befriend anybody?

I don't think I'm the one ranting, but please continue. I enjoy it when vengeful zealots sputter lame excuses for why we ought to send children to hell for being children.

On Fire
On Fire

See my blog on this subject. I understand felony murder, I just didn't understand the intent of the people I was hanging out with at the time. http://politivisor.com/?p=100

Risingmoon_01
Risingmoon_01

Well, in my opinion, alluding to the current "president" compared to just saying President Obama, is the same thing at this time. Consider the fact we only have had one "Black...president", and therefore are talking about one person, in particular, not just any of the OTHER black presidents that apparently BIKESRULE remembers.

But you are correct, technically. The distinction I'm talking about can be argued either way, which i was aware of when I commented, so touche', one grammar nazi to another ;^p

And you are correct. In my opinion those all just excuses for more forms of bigotry, in disguises as "reasons". BUT, I will admit, that I have never claimed philosophy as my professional career, and am pretty certain I'd never make money at it anyway. You should try my croissants though. My treat...

George Santayana was right when he said people who don't remember their history are compelled to repeat it.

What exactly is a good reason for racism in our world, historically, geographically, or in the social demographically way of looking at things? (I'm not accusing you of being a racist/racism with this question, but for someone who feels compelled to correct me, I'd like to get a follow up on your line of thought)

Eric James Drake
Eric James Drake

The word 'president' does not need to be capitalized unless you're talking about the President as a person, not as a concept. Don't correct people if you're incorrect. Aside from that, you're a horrible philosopher. You just tried to explain racism as a situational problem without mentioning history, geography or social demographics. As such, you have absolutely ZERO idea what you're talking about. Happy Halloween.

 
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