No Arrests in More Than Half of 312 Denver Homicides

Rachel Aboytes, known to Denver-area hip-hop fans as Baby Smiley. Her murder remains unsolved.
Rachel Aboytes, known to Denver-area hip-hop fans as Baby Smiley. Her murder remains unsolved. File photo
From January 1, 2010, to the end of February 2017, nearly half of 312 homicides that took place in Denver didn't result in an arrest. Moreover, the victims in cases that were either closed without anyone being taken into custody or still unsolved were overwhelmingly black or Hispanic.

Our data comes from a remarkable project recently completed by the Washington Post. An investigative team at the newspaper spent two years compiling facts and figures related to 52,175 homicides in fifty U.S. cities. Included among them was Denver, which scored slightly below the national average. According to the Post, approximately 51 percent of the homicides the paper analyzed did not result in an arrest. In Denver during the time span studied by the Post, that number was more than 53 percent.

The Post's reporters weren't flawless. They categorized 169 of the 312 Denver homicides as either "open/no arrest" or "closed without arrest," but at least one of the former was incorrectly sorted: the January 31, 2017, murder of security guard Scott Van Lanken near Union Station. In January, Joshua Cummings was sentenced to life without parole for the slaying.

The demographic breakdown of the remaining 168 arrest-free Denver homicide victims: 67 were black, 56 Hispanic, 42 white, one Asian and two others listed as "other." Of the incidents themselves, 122 are still open.

What are some of the reasons the remaining 46 homicides were marked "closed without arrest"? We asked the folks at the Denver Police Department records division about five of the cases, chosen at random, and all of them were declined for prosecution by the district attorney at the time, Mitch Morrissey. The notes for each are below:
Anthony Howard-Crosthwait, killed January 1, 2010: "Case was refused by the DA — no likelihood of conviction. Couple arguing, victim took swing at suspect, who blocked swing and hit victim in neck."

Theodorick Brown, killed October 19, 2014: "Case was refused by the DA — no likelihood of conviction. Victim got into physical fight. Autopsy found death due to cardiovascular disease combined with drug intoxication and stress due to the physical altercation."

Herbert Packard, Killed October 29, 2011: "Case was refused by the DA — no likelihood of conviction. Elderly suspect suffering from severe brain injury at rehab hospital pushed elderly victim in attempt to [get] him out of his room. Victim died of complications weeks later."

Travis Sanders, killed September 22, 2015: "Case was refused by the DA, as it was determined that the victim was shooting simultaneously with the suspect."

Zachariah Chavez, killed November 17, 2016: "Case was refused by the DA — no likelihood of conviction. Self-defense and Make My Day."
As for the "open/no arrest" cases, not all of them remain a mystery. Take the murder of Nathan Leon in March 2013. His killer, Evan Ebel, was never arrested because he was killed during a shootout with police.

Of the other homicides among the aforementioned 168, there are plenty of bitter ironies. In the first few months of 2015, two men named Abdul Muhammad were murdered in Denver, and neither case has been solved. And then there's the terrible day of March 15, 2015, when four homicides took place in the Mile High City. Three of them are still open, and one was closed without an arrest.

Here's the list of the Denver homicides for which no one was arrested from the start of 2010 to early 2017.

January 1, 2010

Anthony Howard-Crosthwait
Closed without arrest

January 11, 2010

DeShon Lee
Open/no arrest

click to enlarge The late Lonnell Franklin. - FILE PHOTO
The late Lonnell Franklin.
File photo
Lonell Franklin
Open/no arrest
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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