A key defendant in the bizarre Aspen crime spree of last summer, the first to take his case to trial, has been found guilty on two felony counts and now faces at least a ten-year prison sentence. And for two other suspects in the resort town's violent youthquake who are still awaiting trial, the news just keeps getting worse -- including a sexual-assault charge filed against one youth for allegedly having sex with an underaged "fan."
On August 25, a Pitkin County jury found eighteen-year-old Stefan Schutter guilty of aggravated robbery and theft for his part in the three-man holdup of a Snowmass grocery store on August 19, 1999. Although Schutter was also accused of being the masked robber who pistol-whipped a store manager, he was acquitted of an assault charge. The robbery was part of a wave of burglaries and armed robberies committed by a group of local teens, including several popular Aspen High students ("Can't Buy a Thrill," August 17). Five of the defendants accepted plea bargains that landed them in prison, serving sentences ranging from three to twelve years. Four received probation, while three others, including Schutter, sought jury trials.
Schutter's high-profile attorneys, former Denver public defender Lisa Wayne and Jeralyn Merritt, a frequent legal analyst on MSNBC and Rivera Live, hammered away at the lack of any physical evidence tying Schutter to the robbery. The prosecution's case hinged on the testimony of other participants in the crime wave, but both of the young men previously convicted in the Snowmass stickup changed their stories on the stand.
Moses Greengrass, the charismatic youth regarded by police as the catalyst for the crime spree, refused to testify against Schutter. Already serving a twelve-year sentence for his part in four armed robberies -- and for refusing to identify his partners in one of the heists -- Greengrass now faces possible additional charges for contempt of court. Another participant in the Snowmass robbery, Wade Hammond, contradicted his earlier statements to police by testifying that he didn't know whether Schutter accompanied him that night.
But two other prosecution witnesses claimed no such memory problems. Jacob Richards, son of Aspen mayor Rachel Richards, recalled that Schutter told him shortly after the robbery that he'd struck an employee and hoped that "the guy's not dead." Cody Wille, scion of another prominent Aspen family, testified that Schutter told him to listen to a police scanner on August 19 because another heist was going down that night. Both Wille and Richards are currently serving time for their part in a robbery of Clark's Market in Aspen two weeks before the Snowmass job.
Despite strenuous defense efforts to discredit Wille and Richards, the jury chose to believe them. The robbery conviction carries a mandatory minimum ten-year sentence. Schutter faces another trial in January for the Clark's robbery. His attorneys have indicated that he will appeal the current conviction.
Two other defendants -- nineteen-year-old Thomas Colver and twenty-year-old Anthony Rizzuto -- also face trials in the coming weeks for the armed robbery of the Aspen Alps condominium complex in August 1999. But their legal situation has been complicated by several additional brushes with the law since they were first charged with the crime last year.
In July, Colver was convicted of possession of marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms, found during a routine traffic stop; his sentencing is scheduled for September 11. Last month he and Rizzuto were arrested following a brawl that reportedly erupted after Rizzuto confronted an ex-girlfriend at a party. Rizzuto, who has been arrested repeatedly in recent months for a variety of skirmishes and bond violations, also faces a fresh charge of sexual assault on a minor, which sent him back to jail with much higher bond conditions.
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According to an affidavit filed in the case, the mother of a local fourteen-year-old girl says she overheard a phone conversation in which her daughter allegedly boasted to a friend that she had had sex with Rizzuto. According to the mom, the friend exclaimed, "I can't believe you fucked Anthony," to which her daughter replied, "Yeah, I can't believe it, either. He's so hot." Rizzuto has denied having a sexual relationship with the girl.
The sexual-assault charge can carry a sentence of life in prison, although it's doubtful such a severe penalty would result from a consensual relationship with an adolescent. Yet the charge brings into sharp relief an aspect of the crime wave that has troubled Aspenites since the beginning -- the apparent willingness of local youths to idolize the robbers. Greengrass's refusal to testify in Schutter's case was reportedly met with approving snickers from youths in the courtroom, while the cooperation of Richards and Wille has been roundly hissed. Meanwhile, copycat burglaries continue to plague the Roaring Fork Valley.
"It's crazy what's going on," says Kim Wille, the mother of Cody Wille, who is now pushing for restorative justice programs in the area. "Aspen isn't waking up to the problem."