Trials Can Be Murder
Jimmy Myers was eighteen the night he rolled the car with the body of Geoffrey Hobin inside. Eighteen months later, in March 1999, he stood before Judge R. Brooke Jackson to be sentenced -- not for murder, but for burglary. Now that a jury had acquitted Myers's friend and co-defendant, Guy Hadorn, no one would ever be held accountable for Hobin's death.
"I know nothing I can say right now will make amends for what happened," Myers told the judge. "You know, there's not much that can be said that already hasn't been said."
"One thing that's on my mind," Jackson replied, "but I know I'm not going to make you answer it -- is, what happened? Who killed Mr. Hobin?"
Late on August 12, 1997, volunteer firefighter Dale Cole was driving along I-70 when he saw what he thought was smoke coming from near the Lookout Mountain exit. But when he arrived at the scene about 10:30 p.m., he discovered a late-model Toyota Land Cruiser flipped onto the driver's side, just off the shoulder of the road. Realizing the accident had just occurred -- what he thought was smoke was actually dust stirred up by the crash -- he called for an ambulance, then climbed through the open rear hatch.
Inside, Cole found a middle-aged man. But this was no accident victim: The man had a belt wrapped so tightly around his throat that he was cyanotic, his face blue and purple. Cole loosened the belt and checked for a pulse; finding none, he quickly backed out of the vehicle and waited for help.
An ambulance arrived within minutes, as did Colorado State Patrol officers. The paramedics checked the victim with a heart monitor; 52-year-old Jeffrey Hobin was pronounced dead at 10:42 p.m.
The case was turned over to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. Hobin was a big guy, but there was no indication he'd struggled. The only signs of violence were bruising on Hobin's right temple and marks left on his throat by the belt. But while the car was immaculate -- not only were there no prints, including Hobin's, but there wasn't so much as a smudge on the windshield -- it did contain some evidence. One piece was the black, braided belt around Hobin's neck. There also was a second belt on the floor, a jacket that appeared too small for Hobin and a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap, which contained seven hairs that the crime lab determined had come from a single person.
More important at this stage of the investigation were "membership cards" for Denver-area strip clubs found in Hobin's wallet. Investigators soon learned that Hobin, a divorced father of two daughters, frequented the clubs. The girls there reported that he was a soft touch for help with car payments or rent and would even offer to pay for school so they could "get out of the life."
Hobin could afford to be generous. He'd lived in a large, new home that backed up to the Westwoods Country Club golf course; the Land Cruiser was new, as was a Harley-Davidson motorcycle parked in the garage.
By 1997, one young woman in particular had caught Hobin's fancy: Lorilee Myers, a 19-year-old topless dancer who worked at several metro-area clubs. Lorilee had married a man in a civil ceremony at the Denver courthouse, but when he began to beat her, she was "rescued" by a mail carrier named Robert Poole, who is now her live-in boyfriend.
Hobin was so enamored of Lorilee that he followed her from one strip club to another. He gave her an estimated $10,000 to $20,000 to fix her car and buy clothes, and put several thousand in a savings account he set up for her. Although he made a couple of attempts to start a sexual relationship, when she spurned his overtures, he continued to be friendly, paid her to do light housekeeping at his home and even offered to send her to the University of Denver.
Once he brought her to Frisco to meet his sister, Sandra Mortensen. On another occasion, he took her to visit a daughter in Wyoming. Mortensen says that in some ways, Hobin's good Samaritan relationship with the stripper was less about sex than it was about trying to play a father's protective role with the young woman -- a role he'd missed with his own daughters.
After Hobin's body was discovered, Jeffco investigators talked to strippers at various clubs, including Lorilee, whose phone number they'd found on one of the membership cards. They'd discovered a letter on Hobin's computer asking Lorilee to come live with him, but they also knew that Hobin had withdrawn $750 the day he died, which he'd given to another stripper who was behind on her car payments.
Lorilee Myers denied knowing anything about what had happened to Hobin.
By now, investigators were also trying to find three young men spotted near the crash site. One woman had even called the sheriff's department that night because she'd seen the three walking in the interstate median and was afraid they'd be hit by a car.
The investigators tracked the sightings east to a Conoco station at the Morrison exit. The clerk who'd been working that night recalled that three young men had entered the station late August 12 and asked to use the telephone; they said their car had broken down and they wanted to call a taxi. Two of the young men had tattoos on their arms, the clerk remembered, although he could describe only one -- a vine design. One of the men was tall and almost painfully thin. Another was wearing a Broncos cap.
The three men left in a taxi. The driver told investigators that what he remembered most about taking the young men to the Westwoods area was that they didn't give him an exact street address, just a vicinity. The guy in the ball cap did most of the talking, he said, then they got out at a location that would turn out to be only a few doors from Hobin's home.
The police soon discovered that Lorilee Myers's brother had a juvenile record for theft. They also found that a call had been made from Hobin's house to Armando Marrujo, a friend of Jimmy's. Continued investigation led them to John Craig Lloyd, who'd been a roommate of Jimmy's, and another man, Michael Rolewicz; Lloyd told police he'd overheard the other two briefly discuss a murder. Lloyd said he'd later confronted Myers about the murder, and Jimmy admitted to taking part in the crime but wouldn't go into detail. Lloyd said he had to get that from Rolewicz.
The story was that Jimmy had been driving the Land Cruiser and that a friend, Guy "Gus" Hadorn, who was sitting behind Hobin, had choked the victim with a belt and that another friend, 21-year-old Anthony Sivek, had struck Hobin in the head.
Armando Marrujo told police that he was in Hadorn's apartment working on his friend's old Saab when Hadorn suddenly admitted, "We fucked up." When Marrujo asked Hadorn what he meant, his friend replied that he'd "killed a guy...I strangled him."
Later, Marrujo had mentioned this to Jimmy Myers. He'd seemed surprised that Hadorn had admitted anything, then conceded, "Yeah, it happened."
On October 6, 1997, Myers, Hadorn and Sivek were arrested in Denver on first-degree-murder warrants. Legally, they were all in the same boat. Even if Hadorn had done the actual killing, under Colorado law, the other two would be just as guilty if they'd participated in the actions leading up to the killing and done nothing to prevent it. Still, there were shades of gray.
Questioned by investigators, Hadorn said he didn't know what they were talking about and clammed up. Myers invoked his right to remain silent and requested an attorney. Sivek talked.
Sivek was from Dallas -- which explained the Cowboys hat in the car -- and had been in the area only a year. He said the incident began when Hadorn's live-in girlfriend, China, demanded to know what he had done with the rent money. Hadorn had spent it on methamphetamine, a drug known to cause psychotic breakdowns and to give its users abnormal strength while increasing their tendency toward violence. When Hadorn brought up the subject of needing money with his two friends, Sivek said, Myers responded that his sister knew a guy with lots of money and expensive things they could steal and pawn.
Myers had been to Hobin's house a few times but had only a vague idea of its actual location. So they drove Hadorn's old Saab over to Lorilee's house, Sivek said, where they found her, Poole and another man. Poole and his friend were busy watching television; Lorilee invited her brother and his buddies in.
When Jimmy Myers told his sister what they were up to, she told them how to get to Hobin's house and gave them his telephone number so they could make sure he wasn't home.
The friends called Hobin several times during the evening but got no answer. Later, they drove to Hobin's neighborhood, parked a few blocks away and walked to his house. Myers rang the doorbell, and to their dismay, Hobin answered. He recognized Lorilee's brother and invited the three in.
According to Sivek, Hadorn quickly explained that his car had broken down -- a faulty fuel pump. But he had a friend who just happened to have a fuel pump, so if they could just use Hobin's telephone...
This was the call from Hobin's cell phone to the home of Armando Marrujo.
Then Hobin's natural generosity doomed him. When the three men were unable to reach Marrujo, Hobin offered to give them a ride back to their car. When they reached the Saab, Sivek said, Hadorn "fiddled" with the car and then muttered that it needed that fuel pump. Hobin offered to drive them to their friend's house to get it.
Then, with Hobin driving and Hadorn directing, they headed to a semi-industrial area.
As they pulled up to a stop sign, Sivek said, Hadorn suddenly reached forward and wrapped a belt around Hobin's throat. So violent was the attack that Hobin was yanked partly into the backseat; Hadorn placed a foot on his victim's head and leaned back against the door to increase the pressure.
Shocked and surprised, Myers and Sivek jumped out of the car. Hadorn screamed at them to get back in and help him. Sivek said Myers got into the driver's seat vacated by the doomed Hobin, while he got into the front passenger seat. He denied hitting Hobin.
The killers then drove west to I-70 and into the mountains.
According to Sivek, Hadorn instructed Myers to take the Lookout Mountain exit, and they crossed over the interstate to Grapevine Road. But Myers was an inexperienced driver; in fact, he didn't even have a driver's license. He was driving along the shoulder of the road and accidentally rolled the vehicle. Sivek said he and Hadorn scrambled out of the car. Myers was trapped beneath Hobin's body and took longer to extricate himself. Then the three took off.
Sivek admitted that the Cowboys cap and the jacket found in the car were his, that the belt found around Hobin belonged to Hadorn's girlfriend and that the belt on the floor was from Myers. The rest of his story matched what the police already knew. They made their way back down the interstate on foot -- sticking to rough country as best they could -- until they'd reached the gas station and called a taxi.
All three men were charged with first-degree murder and felony murder (murder committed in the process of committing another crime or to cover up its commission), as well as attempted burglary. Although the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office chose not to seek the death penalty, a conviction on either murder charge would result in a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Eventually, a deal was worked out with Sivek. He'd agree to testify against the others in return for being allowed to plead guilty to aggravated assault/crime of violence with a sentencing range of 10 to 32 years.
Hadorn was scheduled to go to trial in January 1999, with Myers's trial to follow. Both would be in front of Judge R. Brooke Jackson, Jefferson County's newest judge.
Before Hadorn's trial, two deputy district attorneys went to talk to Lorilee Myers again; a few days later they talked with Poole. Both Lorilee and Poole remembered three men coming to their apartment on the day of the murder: Jimmy Myers, Guy Hadorn and a third man whom they couldn't positively identify.
Lorilee had tried to protect her brother, but she'd finally acknowledged that he was involved. Now she said she wanted immunity: She'd given instructions on how to find Hobin's house and what they could steal there, and therefore could be viewed as a complicitor. The prosecutors told her that if she felt she needed immunity, they'd see if they could get it approved -- then added that their focus was on the people responsible for the murder. She decided to go ahead and talk.
Although Lorilee admitted that she'd gotten tired of Hobin following her around, she said she still thought of him as a good-hearted guy who didn't deserve what happened to him. She said she'd confronted her brother, who'd told her that while he hadn't strangled Hobin, he had driven the car.
The first time the police had talked to Poole, they'd angered him with their threat to charge him as an accessory. It was a weak threat: While Poole may have known the three men were going to commit a burglary, no witness had accused him of supplying any information about Hobin or assisting with the planning of the crime. At that time, he'd told investigators that all he knew about the murder was that it had happened. But now he told prosecutors that a few days before the arrests, he'd confronted Jimmy Myers. The teenager wouldn't say much other than that he was driving and Hadorn had strangled Hobin. Myers, he said, was very frightened.
Poole said he then went with Myers over to Hadorn's apartment. Hadorn came out to his car and told Poole that the original plan was just to steal things because he needed the money. It wasn't until they stopped for gas that Hadorn decided to kill Hobin and removed the belt to use as a weapon. Hadorn acted like he was proud of the killing, Poole said. He was laughing about it, saying the police had no evidence. His biggest problem was that China was mad because he'd used her belt and didn't bring it back.
Aware that there had been some friction between Poole and Hobin, Hadorn told him that his victim was "arrogant...giving a lot of money to Lorilee for no reason." Still, he warned Poole that "snitches end up in ditches."
Poole said he was also aware that Hadorn was a suspect in another shooting. The prosecutors were aware of it as well, because Hadorn's defense attorneys had subpoenaed the Denver Police Department regarding a murder in which Hadorn was the suspect and Myers considered an eyewitness. The DPD had managed to quash the subpoena because the investigation was ongoing.
That was just part of the pre-trial jockeying. Hadorn's public defenders had also argued that the out-of-court comments Jimmy Myers was alleged to have made to others -- Lloyd, Marrujo, Poole and his sister -- regarding Hadorn's involvement were hearsay and inadmissible during the trial. And since Myers's own trial was coming up, the prosecution couldn't call him to the stand.
Another judge sat in on this hearing and ruled in favor of the defense. Myers's statements to others about Hadorn killing Hobin would not be admitted.
And then the prosecution received another blow. The only physical evidence they had linking Hadorn to the car was hair in the Cowboys cap, which Sivek said Hadorn had borrowed the day before the murder because he didn't like his haircut. The hairs in the cap were deemed to be "consistent" with samples taken from Hadorn after his arrest, but Sivek had admitted taking his cap back the day of the murder. Still, the prosecution was prepared to argue that the clothes-swapping showed how friendly the young men were, and it backed up what the witnesses would testify about Hadorn being in the car.
Hadorn's defense attorneys objected. "The probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice," they argued. It would confuse the issues and "mislead the jury."
This time it was Jackson who ruled for the defense.
In their opening statements on January 20, Hadorn's attorneys said that there was no physical evidence connecting their client to Hobin's car. In actuality, Jackson had ruled that evidence, the hair in the hat, legally inadmissible.
The defense's strategy was clear from the start. One prong would be to argue that Jimmy Myers, Lorilee Myers and Robert Poole were in a conspiracy to save the "real killer" -- Jimmy, the attorneys hinted -- while pinning the rap on poor Guy Hadorn. The defendant had been cleaned up, given horned-rimmed glasses that made him look very studious (he soon abandoned them) and, after the defense complained that the jailers had forgotten his tie, was handed one by Judge Jackson.
The second prong of the strategy was to dissect Sivek's involvement. Here the defense had a couple of theories. One, that Sivek wasn't there at all. Since Lorilee and Poole couldn't identify him, that opened the possibility of a mystery man, perhaps the real killer. The problem with this theory was that the gas station attendant remembered a vine tattoo -- which Sivek has.
Another theory was that Sivek had sold his soul to the devil -- the Jeffco DA's office -- to get out from under a first-degree-murder charge. This theory, of course, begged the question of why Sivek had talked to the police at all. He'd spoken to an attorney; he knew the police had no witnesses claiming he had implicated himself in the murder (unlike Myers and Hadorn). It was his hat and his jacket in the car, but the hair in the hat was Hadorn's.
The last theory was that Sivek coveted Hadorn's girlfriend, China, and that Hadorn was in the way. (During the trial, the defense produced a letter Sivek had sent her from jail in which he wrote, "I can't wait to see your lushus body again. Love, Anthony.") But this didn't explain why Sivek had agreed to go to prison for up to 32 years.
Generally, the defense would attack all the "deals" that government witnesses got, as well as their character.
One of the more clever moves came just before the testimony of first Poole and then Lorilee. In each case, with the jurors excused so they couldn't hear, Hadorn's attorney asked the judge if he thought that the witness should be warned that he/she could face criminal prosecution. It wasn't the defense's place to suggest that the prosecution's witnesses be protected from self-incrimination; the prosecutors had already determined that Poole couldn't be charged, and they had no intention of pursuing charges against Lorilee -- she was much more valuable to them as a cooperative witness.
Still, Jackson agreed. This forced the prosecutors to ask the court to grant immunity to Poole and Lorilee. They couldn't take a chance that -- with a little prompting about potential criminal charges from the court -- their witnesses would develop cold feet on the stand and invoke the Fifth, making them look guilty as hell.
Once immunity was granted to Poole and Lorilee, the defense attorneys turned right around during cross-examination and pointed to the immunity agreements as part of a sweetheart deal the pair had received to testify against their client.
Poole, who showed up in court wearing his mail-carrier uniform, was portrayed by the defense as jealous of Hobin, who had a lot more money to give to Lorilee. To keep her, he had to help protect her brother. But it was hard for the defense to go much further with Poole, who had no criminal record.
Although the defense went pretty easy on Lorilee's occupation as a topless dancer, the prosecution was blindsided when Hadorn's attorneys accused her of bigamy. She had admitted that she was married to one man, they noted, but she considered Poole, the father of her child, her common-law husband.
The prosecution objected: Not only was bigamy irrelevant to whether Lorilee was a credible witness, but she'd never been arrested for -- much less charged with -- bigamy.
Attorneys can impeach a witness under certain conditions; generally, convictions for felonies are fair game. But felony charges dropped before trial, or those of which a defendant was acquitted, are supposed to be used only to impeach a witness's veracity -- for instance, if a witness claims to have never been in trouble with the law. And municipal-court misdemeanors and "uncharged conduct" aren't supposed to be used at all.
But Jackson allowed Hadorn's attorneys to attack Lorilee's credibility and character because she was once married to a man who'd beat her until she left him.
And, of course, Sivek was roasted for his "deal." Prosecutors had expected that. But they didn't expect the judge to allow the defense attorneys to impeach Sivek over municipal-court misdemeanor convictions for third-degree assault and then failing to appear in court. Jackson conceded it was a close call but said he didn't want to limit the scope of the cross-examination of witnesses.
"I tend, if anything, to lean toward allowing too much as opposed to too little...and letting the jury decide," Jackson says.
The prosecution wishes he'd applied that theory to the disallowed hair-in-the-hat evidence: Let the jury decide how much weight to give the evidence, especially in light of the defense's argument that it was irrelevant because Sivek had admitted wearing the hat that night.
In the meantime, Hadorn, whose "criminal record" was every bit as damning as Sivek's, sat at the defense table looking like a tall, skinny choir boy. Because he didn't take the stand -- a smart move -- his record of misdemeanor offenses couldn't be used against him. Nor could the prosecutors bring up the ongoing Denver murder investigation.
That is the way it's supposed to work: In order to ensure that a defendant is tried only for the current crime, jurors rarely are allowed to know about his past criminal history. Defense lawyers also fight to make sure their clients can clean up and appear in civilian clothes so that jurors judge them by the evidence and not by their appearance. It's only fair.
But to Geoff Hobin's sister, it seemed that fair applied only to the defendant, not the victim. And for that, she blamed the judge.
Sandra Mortensen's first impression of the judge who would be hearing the case of her brother's alleged murderer was that he looked knowledgeable and scholarly. But that image quickly evaporated when Judge Jackson stood up before the jury came in and told the lawyers that he would need their help because he was new on the bench. Then the prosecutors informed her that the hair-in-the-hat evidence had been disallowed -- a "critical blow," they said. "I knew then," she says, "it didn't matter what anybody said. The case was over; they would never convict Guy Hadorn for killing my brother."
As the trial continued, she became more convinced that not only was the judge inexperienced, but he was also on the defense's side. That first day, he'd gotten Hadorn a tie from another judge. And on the last day, he'd loaned the defendant one of his own.
During the prosecution's closing argument, Mortensen says, Jackson was "very judgelike," solemn and impassive. But the defense's closing seemed to center on making a joke of her brother -- and the judge seemed to enjoy the joke. "He was leaning back in his chair, chuckling, with a grin on his face," she remembers.
The jurors deliberated for only five hours before announcing that they'd reached a verdict.
Mortensen wasn't shocked when the judge read the words "not guilty" -- but she was stunned by the outbreak of cheers and standing ovations by public defenders in the spectator gallery.
She would have expected the judge to say something -- if not cautioning everyone to stay quiet once the verdict was read (as prosecutors had already told Hobin's family and friends), then admonishing Hadorn's supporters afterward. But instead, Judge Jackson engaged in a little banter with Hadorn, telling him his tie must have brought him "luck."
The defense was raising a fuss on the first day of the trial about the defendant not wearing a tie, Jackson explains. Rather than recess and make the jury wait, he had his law clerk get an old tie that another judge keeps for just such emergencies. Jackson says he thought the spare was such a good idea that the next day he brought an old tie from home -- the tie he later loaned to Hadorn.
The judge concedes that after the verdict, he may have told Hadorn that the tie "must have brought you luck." But that shouldn't be construed as favoring the defendant, he adds. "I treat everyone in my courtroom with respect," he says, "whether they're accused of murder or selling marijuana, whether I think they did it or I think they didn't...Hadorn had been found 'not guilty,' and that was that."
Did he favor the defense? Jackson points out that he repeatedly denied the defense lawyers' motion for acquittal when they argued that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. "I let it go to the jury," he says. "They're the ones who acquitted Hadorn."
While the public defenders celebrated, Hobin's sister left the courtroom in tears.
After the Hadorn verdict, the DA's office decided to allow Anthony Sivek to withdraw his original plea and let him plead guilty to simple burglary; Jimmy Myers was given the same deal. It didn't seem right to try them for murder when the man who'd actually held the belt in his hands was free.
At the hearing in which Myers entered his plea, Judge Jackson intimated that the prosecutors had dropped the ball. Maybe so -- but Hobin's family believed it was the judge who had ruined the case. And they were certain of it when they heard Myers's exchange with Jackson at his sentencing. The murder had happened almost exactly as Sivek had described it, Myers said, except that Sivek had struck Hobin while Hadorn had strangled the man.
With that, Jackson proceeded. "There's so much discretion in sentencing," the judge noted. "And it's hard enough to try to figure out what a sentence should be.
"The ultimate result here, folks, was a tragedy of the first order. No matter what I sentence Mr. Myers to or Mr. Sivek, Mr. Hobin is never going to be around. He's never going to watch another movie, never see another sunset...all those things we treasure. Mr. Hobin's lost all that.
"In the trial, Mr. Hobin was, to a certain extent, trashed by the evidence in the sense he was one who was a frequent customer at strip joints. But regardless of one's views on things like that, he was a person. He had a family. He had a life.
"Mr. Myers, you're responsible for that, assuming Mr. Sivek's version and your version of what happened is accurate. You didn't kill the man with your own hands, but you were there. You were there, and you shouldn't have been there."
Jackson then sentenced Myers to eight years in prison -- the same sentence he later handed down to Sivek. Hadorn is a free man. And Hobin's family is at a loss to understand why.
"I have no faith in our judicial system," says Mortensen. "None. As far as the system is concerned, nobody killed my brother. He just ceased to exist."
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