Update: On April 25, two days after the publication of this post, the Denver District Attorney's Office formally accused Brice Fitch of first-degree murder for a fatal shooting on April 19, bringing the total number of 2019 Denver homicides that have resulted in criminal charges to five. Continue for our original post.
The difficulty of bringing killers to justice is exemplified by the murder-charge track record for Denver in 2019 to date.
Of the thirteen homicides in the city so far this year, charges had been filed at the time of publication in only four — decisions that appear not to have been publicly revealed prior to this post. Busts were made in two others, but the Denver District Attorney's Office declined to charge the arrestees for reasons explained below; this, too, represents previously unreported information. Two additional incidents were officer-involved shootings, leaving four crimes for which no one's been taken into custody and a recent fifth homicide for which no charging choice had been made against the arrested suspect.
The thirteen cases also demonstrate the continuing vast disparity in the attention the media pays to violent acts whose victims are people of color or incidents that take place in parts of the city that aren't considered hip or trendy. Several of these homicides received sparse coverage that often ended a day or so after the crime-scene tape came down.
The February 20 slaying of Kerryck Summers is a particularly extreme example. Fox31 was among the handful of outlets to cover his murder as breaking news. But the matter was essentially dropped before Summers's identification by the Denver coroner's office. A Google search found a single mention of his name by the press in relation to his slaying: the Denver Post's running list of homicide victims.
Last November, we explored homicide statistics for Denver during 2017 as recorded by Colorado Crime Statistics, a then-new website launched by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Of that year's 58 homicides, only about 54 percent of them were designated as "cleared," a term CBI communication director Susan Medina defined like so: "'Cleared,' in most cases, means one or more arrests were made. However, there are exceptions where an incident has reached a conclusion from the law enforcement perspective," including instances when "prosecution declines the case or the victim refuses to cooperate. Then the incident is counted as cleared." In all cases, though, "'cleared' means law enforcement has found the perpetrator of the crimes which occurred in the reported incident," she stressed.
Using this definition (and counting the officer-involved shootings), the clearance rate on 2019 Denver homicides is presently 61.5 percent, around 7 percent higher than in 2017 as a whole. But that math may confuse members of the public, particularly given that the well-publicized arrests of two individuals didn't lead to prosecution.
Why is this info only getting out now? For a couple of logical reasons. While law enforcement agencies typically send out press releases about arrests, they don't distribute similar notifications when prosecutors pass. As such, journalists must actively follow up on cases without being prompted by an alert — something that the lack of resources at most news agencies makes increasingly difficult.
Here's a breakdown and update for each of the aforementioned thirteen Denver homicides, in chronological order.
Number 1: No arrest or charge
Time: 2:24 a.m. Monday, January 21
Location: 2320 Glenarm Place, in Five Points
The Denver Post and the major television stations in town — CBS4, Denver7, 9News and Fox31 — all reported about this fatal shooting as breaking news. But by January 23, when the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner sent out a release identifying victim Deandre Abrams, 32, press interest in the case had slackened. A Google search scored hits for Abrams's name only by 9News and the Patch website, which published two pieces — the first after the coroner's email blast, the second following the February 1 arrival of a Crime Stoppers item offering a reward of up to $2,000 for information leading to the arrest of his killer. The 9News mention was also prompted by Crime Stoppers more than a week after the homicide.
No one has been arrested for Abrams's death. The number for Crime Stoppers is 720-913-STOP (7867).
Number 2: Arrest but no charge
Time: 4:12 p.m. Thursday, January 31
Location: 3600 block of West Colfax Avenue, in the West Colfax neighborhood
Again, the Denver Post, the major TV stations and Patch all reported about the fatal stabbing of Dwaine Nees, 48, and there was immediate followup because Robert Barros, 51, was quickly arrested after being found with blood on his hands and a knife in his possession. Additionally, the vivid booking photo seen above was distributed to media purveyors.
However, Carolyn Tyler, spokesperson for the Denver District Attorney's Office, reveals that prosecutors declined to prosecute Barros for the case because there was "insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt." That likely means it was uncertain whether Barros had acted in self-defense.
Number 3: Officer-involved shooting
Time: 3:12 p.m. Friday, February 1
Location: 200 block of South Canosa Court, in the Valverde neighborhood
Westword was among the press outlets to cover this officer-involved shooting, whose circumstances were extreme and controversial. A federal task force on the lookout for Robert Martinez, 55, opened fire on him shortly after he climbed into a vehicle that had pulled up in front of his house. Also inside the ride was Sandra Pacheco, 35, who was hit as the bullets flew (she's since recovered), and two toddler-age children, who fortunately were not injured.
No decision has been made about whether the fatal shooting of Martinez was justified.
Number 4: Arrest and charge
Time: 11:53 a.m. Tuesday, February 19
Location: Union Station, in the Union Station neighborhood
All major news outlets covered the fatal stabbing of John Otto, 27, in part because a suspect, Joaquin Alejandro Romero, was quickly cuffed in regard to the crime — and prosecutors subsequently filed a first-degree murder charge against him. He's scheduled for a preliminary hearing on May 10.
Number 5: Arrest but no charge
Time: 11:02 p.m. on Wednesday, February 20
6900 East Evans Avenue, in the Goldsmith neighborhood
As noted above, the death of Kerryck Summers and the arrest of Jarod Walker prompted sparse coverage, perhaps because information from the Denver Police Department was ambiguous; Walker was shot twice during what appeared to be an exchange of gunfire. The confusion over who did what and when offers a rationale for DA spokesperson Tyler's revelation that no charges were filed because of evidence considered insufficient to result in a successful prosecution.
Number 6: Arrest and charge
Time: 1:50 a.m. on Friday, February 22
Location: 1500 block of North Perry Street, in the West Colfax neighborhood
The death of David Rosenthal was the most widely covered Denver murder in 2019 up until now because of the tragic elements related to his story. Rosenthal was reportedly making his first drive for Uber when he was carjacked and killed, allegedly by thirty-year-old Matthew Anthony Fanelli, who was in the midst of what authorities describe as a multi-state crime spree. Fanelli and Jose Lopez-Jovel, a 31-year-old from El Salvador, were subsequently arrested in Roseburg, Oregon.
Fanelli's far-flung activities have complicated his prosecution in Colorado, the DA office's Tyler concedes. "He was charged on April 16 for murder in the first," she says. "However, we are one of many law enforcement agencies that want to prosecute him. He's currently in jail in Oregon, but we don't know when we might see him back in Colorado. Essentially, we're in line."
As for Lopez-Jovel, Tyler describes his prosecution as "basically a work in progress. We have not filed charges on him yet, but it would be inaccurate to say we've refused them."
Number 7: Officer-involved shooting
Time: 2:11 a.m. Monday, February 25
Location: West 12th Avenue and Galapago Street, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood
Police were called to an apartment at 12th and Galapago on a report of a man threatening to shoot another individual. Eventually, David Litton, forty, came out of the apartment, and he's said to have been holding a handgun at the time. Multiple officers opened fire on Litton, killing him.
Coverage of the Litton shooting was widespread, as is typical for officer-involved shootings. No decision letter has been issued thus far in regard to the officers' actions.
Number 8: Arrest and charge
Time: 2:05 a.m. Monday, March 4
Location: 2111 West Center Avenue, in the Athmar Park neighborhood
The coverage of 55-year-old John Skopinski's fatal shooting wasn't as sweeping as one might assume given its circumstances. Skopinski was killed by a homeowner, 52-year-old Brent Williams, and while the details that have been released qualify as sketchy, they hint at a Make My Day scenario, albeit one that doesn't seem to be entirely straight-forward.
Williams was arrested, but his affidavit was promptly sealed. However, DA's office spokesperson Tyler states that he has been charged with two counts: first-degree murder and second-degree murder.
Number 9: No arrest but a named suspect
Time: 4:05 a.m. Sunday, March 10
Location: 1500 block of Market Street, in the Union Station neighborhood
This homicide received coverage aplenty from Mile High City media owing to its location. The 1500 block of Market Street is a busy nightlife destination as well as a frequent spot for crime; during the past five years, by our estimate, there have been at least 21 violent episodes there, including a previous murder.
Accordingly, the Denver Police Department's investigation was the equivalent of a full-court press, and on April 17, a Crime Stoppers bulletin named a suspect: Gaghe Fox, 24. He's described as a white male standing five-five in height and weighing 117 pounds, with black hair, brown eyes and "T" and "G" tattoos on his cheeks, as seen in the mug shot above. He's considered to be armed and dangerous. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867 (STOP).
Number 10: Arrest and charge
Time: 11:30 p.m. Thursday, March 21
Location: 3298 North Hudson Street, in the Northeast Park Hill neighborhood
One element that typically guarantees greater media coverage of homicides (which this one received, at least initially) is an attack against a cop, and that was allegedly part of the story surrounding 42-year-old Jamaica McClain's death by gunshot wound. Aundre Moore, 38, was originally arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder and first-degree assault on a police officer.
Media followup was spotty, in part because so little information was released. But Tyler, from the Denver DA's office, confirms that a first-degree-murder charge has been filed against Moore.
Number 11: No arrest or charge
Time: 7:35 p.m. Tuesday, April 2
Location: 900 East Colfax Avenue, in Capitol Hill
While the Denver Post covered the homicide of Sandy Walker II, who died from multiple gunshot wounds five days before his 47th birthday, most other major news agencies in the city failed to do so even after the distribution of an April 8 Crime Stoppers alert about the shooting, complete with a reward of up to $2,000. The Crime Stoppers number is 720-913-STOP (7867).
Number 12: No arrest or charge
Time: 9:15 a.m. Thursday, April 11
Location: 100 block of South Yuma Street, in the Valverde neighborhood
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Bryan DeHerrera, the victim of this homicide, was just sixteen when he was shot and killed, and the Denver Police Department quickly distributed a good-quality, highly sympathetic photo of him. As such, pretty much every major news agency in the metro area covered the case after it occurred and again the next day, when a Crime Stoppers item was shared. But this attention, also accompanied by the offer of a reward, has not yet led to a break in the case. Again, the Crime Stoppers number is 720-913-STOP (7867).
Number 13: Arrest but no charge at the time of publication
Time: 4 a.m. Friday, April 19
Location: 300 block of South Jasmine Street, in the Washington-Virginia Vale neighborhood
By Denver standards, the murder of Guillermo Medrano-Sandoval, 26, received universal coverage thanks largely to a series of unusually graphic episodes involved in it. An arrest affidavit for Brice Fitch, 24, says he fired a shot at two people he claimed were trying to steal his gray Dodge Charger, which was parked outside his home near Alameda and South Jasmine, during the wee hours of the 19th. He then grabbed an AR-15 automatic weapon from which more bullets escaped as the alleged thieves drove the vehicle at him, the affidavit contends — but Fitch claims he fired only because he fell, causing his finger to inadvertently squeeze the trigger. That afternoon, Sandoval was found dead in the Charger, which was parked on the 12000 block of East Exposition Drive in Aurora.
Fitch was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder in the incident, but a formal charge was not announced until April 25, two days after the original publication of this post.