Eric Swanson's troubled past caught up with him last week in an Arapahoe County courtroom -- although not with quite the vengeance prosecutors had in mind. At one point facing habitual criminal charges and a potential 64-year-sentence for a case that began as a municipal summons for harassment, Swanson received a seven-year prison sentence for an assault on another concertgoer at the 2010 Mayhem Festival in Greenwood Village.
As recounted in our May 24 cover story "Sucker Punch," the 33-year-old Swanson and a buddy, Jeramie Gerhardt, 22, had initially been issued tickets by Greenwood Village police after an altercation with another fan, James Christensen, during Five Finger Death Punch's set at the metal fest. Witnesses identified the two men as the culprits who'd punched and kicked Christensen after he'd complained to Gerhardt about his rowdy behavior, some of which had been caught on video.
The incident turned into a felony assault prosecution, though, after Christensen had his injuries checked out at a local hospital and learned he'd suffered a broken nose and skull fractures. That was particularly bad news for Swanson, who has four prior drug-related felony convictions, all of them nonviolent, from more than a decade ago. Since, under District Attorney Carol Chambers, prosecutors in Arapahoe County have routinely filed "Big Bitch" habitual criminal charges against just about everyone they can, Swanson was looking at a quadrupled sentence of up to 64 years.
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But last summer -- after Gerhardt, who has no prior record, was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge and received 75 days in jail and probation -- prosecutors announced they were dropping habitual criminal charges against Swanson. All that remained was to determine an appropriate sentence for Swanson, given that he did have prior felonies; last week Judge Carlos Samour decided on seven years with three years of mandatory parole.
Swanson "is hopeful they will send him to a facility where he can continue to study and take the classes he needs to further his advancement," says Kim Roth, a friend and supporter who attended the sentencing hearing. "Eric wrote a letter to the judge, and he said that he regretted his part on that day. The judge explained that it was unfortunate that it had to come down the way that it did, but Eric had a history, and although it was not violent, he had to be punished differently."
The 18th Judicial District's broad use of habitual criminal charges has been a flashpoint in this year's race for district attorney to succeed Chambers. For more on that topic, see last month's feature "Lethal Election."
More from our Videos archive: "Video: Mayhem Festival clips capture events before assault."