How Many of Denver's 44 Homicides So Far This Year Were Motivated by Pot?

In an interview with Westword published yesterday, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who wrote a letter of support for an anti-marijuana legalization measure up for vote in California next week, said he believes legal pot has contributed to a crime increase in Colorado, including more homicides. But he acknowledged that data to prove it is hard to come by.

He's right about that. However, an analysis of homicides in Denver circa 2016 provides more information. Our look at the 44 homicides that have taken place in the city so far this year (including a shocking twelve last month) shows four with a marijuana connection — one death fewer than the number of people killed by Denver police officers this year to date.

These numbers can't be considered definitive, as law enforcement either hasn't released information about motives in every case or doesn't have it available because no suspects have been arrested or identified. As a result, it's possible that marijuana was a motive in additional homicides — though it's just as likely that it wasn't, and perhaps more so given that the most common crimes fall into the categories of domestic violence or possible gang activity.

Below, get details on all 44 homicides, drawn from Westword coverage and other media sources — most importantly, the Denver Post's ongoing Denver Homicide Report, a valuable repository that gathers statistics going back to last year. Note that the marijuana-related homicides took place in two separate incidents, one of which was particularly bloody, resulting in three deaths.

Number 1: Teodoro Leon III
January 1
1025 Acoma alley
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Leon was stabbed to death by Calvin Johnson, a homeless man who, as we've reported, admitted that the two had past beefs over stolen items. Johnson, who has been convicted in the slaying, is said to have referred to himself as "Calvin/Elijah the Prophet/crazy killer."

Number 2: Ramone Lonergan
January 11
Speer and Zuni
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

As we've reported, Lonergan was killed in an officer-involved shooting after he'd allegedly emerged from a vehicle holding a gun.

Number 3: Varnell Jenkins
January 23
12300 Albrook Drive
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Jenkins was reportedly shot and killed after an altercation with an unknown individual who has yet to be arrested, despite a Crimestoppers alert with photos showing a man considered to be a person of interest.

Number 4: Victor Mendoza
January 30
National Western Complex
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Mendoza was killed during a January brawl at the Colorado Motorcycle Expo at the National Western complex involving a rival motorcycle club. No charges were filed in the case.

Number 5: David Castillo
February 4
2011 West Gill Place
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Castillo was shot in front of a residence. Few details about the case have been made public, and no arrests have been made for the crime.

Number 6: Sheryl Thompson
February 21
3400 block of Park Avenue West
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Jeremiah Halsey told some Denver firefighters that "he had hurt somebody." He had: Thompson died of asphyxia, and Halsey was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Number 7: Gerardino Gonzalez
February 22
35th and Lowell
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Gonzalez was killed by police officers investigating a burglary he is believed to have committed prior to a carjacking and a chase.

Number 8: Tarell Burton
March 9
Bruce Randolph and Cherry Street
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Teen father Burton was killed, and Bernice Serrano, who was with him, suffered severe injuries in a shooting for which two men, Keon Nixon and Eli Mayfield, have been charged. The case was investigated by members of the Denver police gang unit.

Number 9: Jose Moran Cortez
March 12
4800 block of Morrison Road
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Cortez was found dead around 6 a.m. on the 12th. Alonso Nunez-Cabrera was named as a person of interest in the case, but no arrest has been reported, nor have any details emerged.

Number 10: Scott Breitinger
April 3
3200 block of West Nevada Place
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Breitinger was riding his motorcycle when he is believed to have gotten into a confrontation with an unknown individual who shot him to death. No arrests in the case thus far, nor any revelations about motive.

Number 11: Dion Damon
April 12
1300 block of Bannock Street
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Damon, who was wanted in connection with a bank robbery, was shot to death by police while he sat in a car on Bannock Street. He was unarmed at the time, but no charges were pressed against the officers involved.

Number 12: Marc Koenig
April 13
Alley between the 3200 blocks of Race and High streets
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Koenig's body was found in a dumpster. The Denver coroner determined that he died of blunt-force injuries. No arrests have been made, and possible motives haven't been made public.

Number 13: Jairo Perez Bojorquez
April 22
200 block of Osceola Street
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Daniel Gutierrez was arrested on suspicion of murder after Perez Bojorquez was found shot to death. No information about motives has been shared with the citizenry.

Number 14: Temujin Clark
April 24
1600 block of Vrain Street
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

After Clark was shot to death, his father, Danny Clark, was taken into custody on suspicion of having pulled the trigger.

Numbers 15: Shane Richardson
May 2
725 East 26th Avenue
Known marijuana-related motive?: No

Richardson's body was found after a fire was extinguished in an apartment above Rosenberg's Bagels, which was closed for months due to the damages. Tattoo artist Brian Pattison was arrested for the crime. While Pattison's criminal record includes a past drug-possession conviction (along with arrests for  burglary, speeding 25 to 39 mph over the speed limit, escaping a felony conviction and carrying a concealed weapon), there has been no information made public about a marijuana motive in the case.

Continue to get the details about 29 more Denver homicides from 2016 and how many of them are known to have been motivated by marijuana.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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