Meth and death: A senseless murder and its murky aftermath

Meth and death: A senseless murder and its murky aftermath

Richard Toler saw the big black dog and knew something was wrong.

It was half past ten in the morning on January 5, 2005, the thermometer just a few degrees above zero, and a Newfoundland named Bear was cruising the neighborhood. No way that dog should be loose, particularly in such bitter cold.

Toler had just left his house on a quiet street in Lakewood, headed for a Kinko's to do some copying, when he saw Bear wandering at the end of the block. He'd met the dog the previous summer when he'd gone over to the house of Charles Repenning, his 82-year-old neighbor, to pick up some misdelivered mail. Repenning had turned out to be a friendly old gent — and very fond of his Newfie.

Charles Repenning received medals for heroism in World War II and renown in later years as a paleontologist.
PHOTO COURTESY REPENNING FAMILY
Charles Repenning received medals for heroism in World War II and renown in later years as a paleontologist.
Nick Savajian (top left) promised cash and meth to burglars Richard Kasparson (right) and Mike Wessel — and testified against them as part of a plea deal.
Nick Savajian (top left) promised cash and meth to burglars Richard Kasparson (right) and Mike Wessel — and testified against them as part of a plea deal.

Details

For more about the felony-murder statute, visit the Crime & Punishment archive at westword.com.

Now Toler parked his truck and walked the dog back to Repenning's house. He rang the bell, banged on the door. No answer. He walked around to the back of the house and found that a gate had been left open, providing Bear a means of escape. A window from the back door was lying cracked on the ground.

Then he noticed something even more disturbing. The house's electric meter had been removed and was sitting on a picnic table. An electrician by trade, Toler knew that was one way to cut off the power. He quickly spotted other snipped and dangling cables and wires, including the phone line.

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911.

Two officers from the Lakewood Police Department arrived within minutes. After noting pry marks on a deadbolt and other signs of forced entry, they went inside. The place had been ransacked — drawers missing from dressers, cabinets wide open, papers and knickknacks scattered everywhere.

In a bedroom, under a heap of blankets beside the bed, they found the body of an elderly man. His hands were bound with a telephone cord. There was a sock stuffed in his mouth and a bandage wrapped tightly around his eyes, nose and lips, blocking his ability to breathe. He had suffocated while his killers went about their frantic business, helping themselves to his belongings and leaving a mess behind.

Charles Repenning had cut a wide swath through life. He had been a soldier and a prisoner of war, a scientist and an adventurer. He'd traveled extensively in the Southwest and carved a name for himself in paleontology as a leading authority on fossil rodents. Despite his age and declining health, he'd still been engaged in his voluminous scholarly writing and publishing when the home invaders abruptly ended his journey.

Repenning was accustomed to taking the long view, debating with his colleagues the circumstances surrounding the rise and fall of an entire species. But the investigation of his murder provided a glimpse of an entirely different world, one whose inhabitants care nothing about the past and even less about the future — a netherworld of addicts and dealers, where the long view doesn't extend beyond what can be smoked or snorted right now.

By the time the case went to trial — actually three separate murder trials — it had become a lurid story of meth and death, with odd overtones of the hit crime drama Breaking Bad. Just like on TV, the Repenning case featured a criminal mastermind, Michael Mapps, who seemed like an ordinary family man and businessman but had a talent for cooking exceptionally potent methamphetamine. And, as in the series, the story line involved a motor home that may have contained lab equipment as well as damning evidence stolen from the Repenning home.

But was Mapps really a kind of Walter White? The narrative that pegged him as the "mastermind" of a horrendous crime began to break down shortly after Mapps was convicted by a jury of felony murder in 2006. Evidence that had never been presented at trial made its way, five years later, to a hearing in Jefferson County. District Judge Dennis Hall threw out the murder conviction and ordered a new trial, finding that Mapps's own attorney had "engaged in improper conduct" in the case by removing and then replacing evidence.

Hall's ruling was still under appeal when Mapps, who was also serving time for manufacturing meth, died in prison last year. He never got his new trial; it's possible the verdict would have been the same if he had. But his death leaves several unanswered questions, a puzzle of teeth and vertebrae and bone fragments that can't quite be assembled into a coherent form.

Members of the Mapps family, who fought doggedly to win him a new trial, insist that he was more of a fall guy than a ruthless drug lord. "That's not who my dad was," says the defendant's son, Ben Mapps. "He was fucking up, making some bad choices. But he wasn't killing people or setting people up to get killed. He's not the guy they painted him to be at all."

**********

Charles Repenning acquired many unusual artifacts and keepsakes over the course of his long and eventful career. It was no easy task to determine the full scope of what had been plundered from his house because his interests were so diverse. Most of the objects that went missing had far more personal significance than monetary value; every piece, it seemed, had a story behind it. The stolen items were evidence not only of a crime, but also of the character of their rightful owner, a testament to his travels and passions and insatiable curiosity.

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17 comments
shelleywhisler65
shelleywhisler65

Mr Repenning's family has my sympathy. He sure sounds like he was an amazing guy.

Mapps was guilty, was culpable, and deserved what he got. He ran the show. Everyone involved and interviewed for this story is a white trash meth zombie. Jail for every one of them.

afresquez
afresquez

The judicial system is messed up! I feel bad for the Repenning families loss as he sounds like he was a very special man.  I feel bad for the Mapps family as their father, brother, ex-husband never had his day back in court to prove his innocence.  He lost his life first in the judicial system and then in the health care system.  I am looking forward to reading more on this which I must say was VERY well written.   

suegmapps
suegmapps

Alan, thank you for the great investigation it took to reveal this very complex story, and deliver it so finely written.  My entire family has great lament over the loss of Charles Repenning, who was indeed a unique gentleman.  And should've never suffered as he did.  I was so touched by the end of the story and the wisdom that was given to us from his daughter. There will never be a day that I don't think about Mr. Repenning, until the day I die.

The second part to this story, is the story of itself that was not properly investigated when the police had more "leads". Why? Why can the detectives just choose not to investigate the crime in totality? Because it wouldn't fit the story of the person the DA is buying off with a "deal"?  And then an attorney that can act criminally, but get away with it?  An officer of the court can admit, on the stand, that they committed a crime, against the person they were paid to defend, and the Jeffco DA does nothing about it?  And then we in Colorado have Attorney Regulation, that is supposed to protect the public from such a thing, but they don't?  And a person, innocent of murder got sent to prison for life?  Does everyone think that only the sentenced person does life?  Well, let me tell you... the whole family does the sentence also.

How is it that an attorney could be paid over 100k and he doesn't have to repay anything after breaking the law and not defend his client?  How is it that the prison system doesn't have to treat a prisoner with a life sentence with the same medical care of someone with a lesser sentence?  And that person can die because no one has told the prison system that the nmates sentence has been reversed?

What happened to our Justice System in this case?  From the police, to liars that actually committed crime and orchestrated the burglary, to crooked attorney's, to cover ups from the DAs office, Attorney Regulation, to the poor medical care in prison... it appears that everyone saved their asses... on the back of Michael Mapps.  And it killed him.

WAKE UP PEOPLE!  I met too many families in the last 8 years that this kind of thing has happened to!  Do you think this only happened to Masters and Mapps? You should be outraged that this is the Colorado Legal System, and the like's of Gary Fielder can get away with a crime and not pay for it. Is it okay because he did not use meth?  What the hell was the whole systems excuse for the lies and the breakdown?

It looks to me as if Lakewood Police, Nick Savajian, Gary Fielder, Attorney Regulation and the Jefferson County DA were damn lucky Mike died!



ives80226
ives80226

This is so well written.  I think it was very clear during this trial that there are other leads that should have been followed up on, to seek the TRUTH. Isn't that why an oath is taken within the judicial system, to find justice? But then again the oath taken in the medical field didn't seem to hold much importance within the prison system for Mapps either. This was a tragic loss and could have been avoided in many different ways.

The fight will continue!

jamieb0321
jamieb0321

This is quite a story to tell and I think it has been told well so far. It was not bias to either side and was well written. There is much more to tell and I look forward to reading the rest. Mike Mapps was not a perfect soul, as no one is and unfortunately had an improper conviction that ended up costing him his life before it was resolved. The sentence he received made it near impossible for him to get the medical care that he needed. This is something that needs to be known.

bw-martinez
bw-martinez

While I can sympathize with the Repenning family for their losses, I do agree that the WHOLE story needs to be told.  Mike Mapps was no angel, his family will and have agreed with that, but the judicial system and their treatment of him was unnecessarily cruel.  On a personal level, I have seen the fight his family has gone through for the smallest things, such as getting him glasses, to major medical treatments that were denied to him for whatever reason the doctors in the system deemed "nonessential".

I also think that the story of Savijian, Kasparson, and Wessel goes deeper, and needs to be further investigated.

Alan, I am glad to read that this has so far seemed unbiased on either side, and I look forward to reading the rest of the story here.

k6532082
k6532082

I agree that there is more that needs to be said. Michael Mapps was innocent and lost his life because of the judicial system and the health care system, his family fought so hard to prove his innocence, yet weren't able to continue, can't wait to read part two.

info3681
info3681

There is so much more that needs to be said. For the man, father, step-father, friend and much more that Michael Mapps was. The fight that his daughter and family continue. And coming so close to freedom until the the incompetence of the systems medical care took an innocent man too soon. I hope you are planning on part 2. Nice work Alan!

msheena
msheena

Amazing article Alan! I think you did a wonderful job telling the story including all sides as well as uncovering the many crooked kinks within the judicial system and bringing the innocence of my father to light.  I wish we could have worked faster or shall I say, I wish the system worked faster to save his life as he will be forever missed by many! I hope to read Part II in the near future. 

BlondyVanWeirden
BlondyVanWeirden

Finally... true journalism in the Westword.  WAIT...this piece was written by one of my old college instructors.  It's been so long.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

                   ... Just Legalize It !! ...

whosdp
whosdp

As a victim of a couple of drug-induced burglaries, I have zero sympathy for for anyone involved in the tweaker culture.  Repenning was, by all accounts, an amazing person whose life was cut short by people willing to do anything just to get high.


Had he survived, all the perpetrators of the "victimless crime'' would be back on the streets by now.  Once an addict, always an addict...when caught, they ought to spend SERIOUS prison time.  It's the only way to protect law abiding citizens.

macphale
macphale

A classic story of Greed. So is www.SiblingThieves.com

Don't stop the Music. Google MacPhale Sound Cloud and You Tube. Listen to new Original Songs "My Life's Gonna Change" & "That Ted Bundy Shoulda Been In Church on Sunday, Instead of out Playing With The Girls".    

msheena
msheena

@suegmapps Damn right Auntie! 


These are people's lives that the DA is using as their personal puppets, so the next time you receive that little piece of annoying paper in the mail with the words written so clearly, j-u-r-y   s-u-m-m-o-n-s, please remember that, yet it may take you away from your job and may not be the plan for that wonderful day........................As a result, you may be saving the life of an innocent human being. 

So give it your all, be true, honest and stand up for what you believe is right! 

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@whosdp  " Repenning was, by all accounts, an amazing person whose life was cut short ..."


He was 82 years old!


dunkerpup
dunkerpup

@DonkeyHotay @whosdp yes, his life was cut short, because he wouldn't have died THAT VERY NIGHT if he hadn't been murdered. Come on!

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@dunkerpup ... he was 82! ... you have NO EVIDENCE he wouldn't have died that very night from some other natural / medical / accidental causes.



 
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