Today, January 17, a hearing continues in Adams County court to determine if a fifteen-year-old accused of killing ten-year-old Kiaya Campbell in June 2017 will be tried as an adult. Such efforts have been attempted at least fourteen times in Colorado over recent decades, and the results are decidedly mixed no matter what decision was ultimately made.
Among the most notorious examples took place back in March 2011, when, as we've reported, Burlington prosecutor Robert Watson toyed with the idea of charging a twelve-year-old as an adult for the slayings of his parents, Charles and Marilyn Long, and the wounding of a younger brother and sister. At the time, it appeared that the child might become the youngest person in Colorado history to face adult murder charges.
Watson ultimately chose not to do so, however, and following an August 2011 plea deal, the then-thirteen-year-old was sentenced to seven years in the juvenile corrections system rather than a possible life sentence in adult prison.
Cut to September 2017, when we finally learned the name of the crimes' perpetrator: Gedeon Long, who was nineteen when a judge in Burlington approved his transfer to what was referred to as a "less secure facility" in advance of his scheduled release from juvenile detention around the same time in 2018.
In our original coverage of the Longs' tragedy, we listed cases involving nine other juveniles who were convicted of adult offenses in Colorado during the 1990s, as originally compiled by the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. As you'll see by the roster below, the youngest of them was fourteen at the time the original crime was committed:
Nov. 4, 1992 — Thomas ''T.J.'' White, 15, and Marcus Fernandez, 16, killed state Trooper Lyle Wohlers. White is sentenced to consecutive 16-year terms for accessory to murder. Fernandez is sentenced to life without parole.
Oct. 31, 1993 — Paul English, 14, shot and killed Carl Banks Jr., 18, in Park Hill, as he was shepherding a group of trick-or-treaters. He was sentenced to 48 years in prison.
Feb. 25, 1995 — Raymond James Gone, 16, shot and killed Denver police officer Shawn Leinen. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Sept. 28, 1996 — Jennifer Tombs, 16, shot and killed her baby sitter Latanya Lavallais, 23. She was sentenced to life in prison.
Nov. 15, 1996 — Antonio Scott Farrell, 17, and Kevin Blankenship, 16, kidnapped Barbara Castor, 76, from a Brighton parking lot, tied her up and left her near abandoned dam near Strasburg. She died of exposure. They were sentenced to life sentences plus 56 years.
Sept. 7, 1998 — Alexander Pogosyan, 17, and friend Michael Martinez, 18, killed four teenagers and a mother in a Labor Day rampage. Martinez was later slain. Pogosyan was sentenced to five consecutive life terms without parole.
Westword's coverage of teens charged as adults shows the difficulty of winning a conviction for actions that don't involve homicide. A case in point involves Merhawi Ocbamichael, who was seventeen in 2012 when the Denver District Attorney's Office announced that it had filed adult counts against him in relation to a series of aggravated robberies. In the end, however, there was a change in strategy. Today, Ocbamichael is 23 and in phase three of Colorado's Youth Offender System (YOS) program.
More recently, Sienna Johnson and Brooke Higgins were hit with adult charges for allegedly conceiving a Columbine-style murder plot at Mountain Vista High School when they were sixteen. Johnson and Higgins fought this designation, but they eventually pleaded guilty to counts that straddled the juvenile and adult systems. They'll each serve terms in Youth Corrections, followed by a stint on supervised adult parole.
Here's more about six additional cases that we've covered, all involving murder or attempted murder. The youngest of those convicted as an adult was fifteen when the crime took place — and one woman spent decades behind bars despite not taking an active part in a killing.
Tara Perry was sentenced to 66 years in prison for attempted murder, robbery, assault and other crimes related to crimes spearheaded by her older, suicidal boyfriend when she was sixteen. As writer Alan Prendergast reported in a 2012 feature article titled "The Girl Who Fell to Earth," her sentence was later reduced to forty years — but it was "still the longest of any juvenile in the state who didn't actually kill or maim anyone."
By the way, the attempted-murder rap was related to bullets sprayed inside a King Soopers.
The following year, Perry was paroled for her actions in Colorado — but she still had an additional three-year sentence to serve in Wyoming for a Cheyenne home invasion that was part of the rampage. Wyoming currently lists her as on parole.
In March 2011, the town of Hugo, in Lincoln County, was shaken by the murders of Charles and Laura Clagett, an elderly couple who'd lived in the area for years. Soon, their great-grandson — later ID'd as Greg Smith, a few weeks shy of seventeen — was arrested and charged as an adult.
Among other things, Smith took photos of his victims after killing them.
Smith was convicted in January 2013. The earliest year he can be paroled is 2050.
The parallels between the Kiaya Campbell tragedy and this one are striking and disturbing. The investigation began as a missing-persons case involving a ten-year-old — in this case, Westminster's Jessica Ridgeway — before turning into a murder inquiry involving a juvenile.
Sigg was seventeen at the time of his arrest, and the information that emerged after he was charged as an adult shocked the community. Ridgeway's torso was found in a black trash bag — and Sigg was said to have had an interest in mortuary science.
He was sentenced to life in prison in November 2013.
Miguel Angel Ita was just fifteen when he was charged with a multiple stabbing in Lakewood that killed Jose Barrera-Mendoza, 22. But even though the case began in juvenile court, the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office filed for it to be moved into the adult system — and it was.
Ita was convicted in 2015 and is now nineteen and listed as an inmate at the Bent County Correctional Facility. His estimated parole eligibility date is June 16, 2034.
White was seventeen when he was arrested with one other juvenile and an adult, Marquise Lewis, for the murder of thirteen-year-old Reysean Abram, who was shot to death while riding his bike. He was initially processed as a juvenile, but the Denver District Attorney's Office subsequently decided to charge him as an adult. The other suspect, Keon Belton, was fifteen at the time of the crime, and his case stayed in juvenile court.
Now 21, White is serving his time in the Crowley County Correctional Facility. His next parole hearing is in June 2042 — and, no, that's not a misprint.
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Trujillo was seventeen when he was arrested in the fatal stabbing of eighteen-year-old Anthony Benavidez at a trailer park in Thornton, the same community where Kiaya Campbell was killed.
At first the Thornton Police Department didn't release Trujillo's identity because of his age. But he was subsequently tried and convicted as an adult. His mandatory release date is February 2049.