Why Shawn Geerdes Got 144 Years for Pot Murder/Arson

Shawn Geerdes's booking photo.
Shawn Geerdes's booking photo. Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
Shawn Geerdes has been ordered to spend 144 years in prison for murder and arson in the death of Jason Dosa, his partner in a cannabis business. The length of the sentence speaks to the brutality of the crime, Geerdes's hefty previous criminal history and the determination of the 18th Judicial District DA's office, headed by 2018 gubernatorial candidate George Brauchler, who wrote in a recent Westword op-ed that at least eleven marijuana-related homicides have taken place in his jurisdiction since limited legalization of recreational pot in January 2014.

We first reported about Dosa's slaying in September 2015, and at the time, authorities either didn't know about a connection with marijuana or chose not to share the information publicly. As we noted then, a series of 911 reports about a burning car quickly turned into a murder investigation.

About 11:40 a.m. on September 20, 2015, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, numerous calls to 911 revealed that a car was on fire near the 9500 block of Cougar Road in southern Jeffco.

Here's a JCSO photo shot after the flames were extinguished.

A photo of the car in which Jason Dosa's body was found. - JEFFERSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
A photo of the car in which Jason Dosa's body was found.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
Inside the vehicle, emergency personnel discovered a body that was later identified as Dosa.

The sheriff's office quickly branded the situation as suspicious, and no wonder: Dosa had been shot five times.

Investigators' attention turned to Geerdes, who was arrested at about 5:40 p.m. on September 23, 2015, after being pulled over by law enforcement on Highway 85 north of Meadows Parkway in Douglas County. He was placed in custody without bond on suspicion of murder and arson.

Meanwhile, the Dosa family struggled to deal with the tragedy, as is clear from the introduction to the GoFundMe page set up after Jason's death:
On September 20, 2015, Jason Michael Dosa passed away from a senseless act in which we are still seeking answers for. There are no words right now to express the deep grief that this loss has caused his family. He was such a light in this world and was looked up to by so many. He leaves behind his loving wife Heather as well as his two beautiful children: Ryan and Greg. Jason was a family man who truly believed in the love of God. This love was apparent by the way he led his life and the way he impacted us all. He was a wonderful husband, a compassionate father, a caring son, a loyal brother and a valued friend. Anyone who knew Jason knows the depths of his heart and his willingness to be there for the ones he loved. We ask for financial blessings as he was the sole provider of his family.We also ask prayers for his family right now as they deal with the aftermath of his passing.
The GoFundMe page remains online. More than $9,400 has been pledged toward a goal of $100,000.

In the days following Geerdes's arrest, more information surfaced about his rap sheet. His criminal history stretched back nearly twenty years, with arrests including theft, burglary, drug possession and domestic violence.

A photo of Jason Dosa and his family, from a GoFundMe page created after his death. - GOFUNDME
A photo of Jason Dosa and his family, from a GoFundMe page created after his death.
Dosa, too, had been previously busted for domestic violence and burglary, among other things. However, his family maintained that he'd turned his life around. At a press conference staged with the cooperation of the JCSO, his brother shared a prepared statement that read in part, "Jason was a loving father who took no greater joy than spending time with his family and providing for others. My brother was a person who was always bigger than this world. He had a strong relationship with the Lord and demonstrated it daily through his actions and his ability to give. There has been a hole ripped in our hearts that will never be filled."

Geerdes's trial eventually took place in Elbert County, not Jeffco. Why? Because investigators came to the conclusion that Dosa was killed in the community of Agate, in a grow house he co-owned with Geerdes.

According to Brauchler's team with the 18th Judicial District DA's office, bloodstains and spent shell casings were found in the grow house, indicating that Dosa had been killed there, then transported more than an hour's drive north. The car was presumably set ablaze in an effort to destroy physical evidence.

As for the circumstances of the slaying, Geerdes maintained that he killed Dosa while trying to defend himself. But in his own statement, Senior Deputy District Attorney Douglas Bechtel dismissed that theory.

"When reviewing a case, our office always evaluates the applicability of affirmative defenses, such as self-defense or defense of premises — commonly known as Make My Day," Bechtel maintained. "However, the defendant’s actions in this case of shooting the victim, putting the victim in the trunk of his own car, driving the car eighty miles, dousing the car in gasoline and starting a car fire and wildfire shows that the defendant knew this was not a justified shooting. Simply put: 'Actions speak louder than words.'"

Another photo of the torched car. The fire spread to the surrounding area. - CBS4 FILE PHOTO
Another photo of the torched car. The fire spread to the surrounding area.
CBS4 file photo
The jury agreed. This past July, the panel found Geerdes guilty of second-degree murder, second-degree arson and setting a wildfire — because the fire from the burning car spread to the area immediately surrounding it.

At the time of his conviction, the DA's office pointed out that Geerdes could receive a sentence of 96 years if he was found to be a habitual criminal. But the jolt actually turned out to be much longer than that. District Judge Jeffrey K. Holmes gave him 96 years for murder, 48 years for starting the wildfire and 24 years for arson. The latter two counts will be served concurrently, while the murder and wildfire beefs are set to run consecutively.

By way of explanation, Judge Holmes told Geerdes at the sentencing hearing that "you had a horrible criminal history."

In his op-ed, Brauchler suggested that while Amendment 64, the 2012 measure that authorized the legal recreational marijuana market, had cut down on possession arrests, it may have fueled other, more serious offenses. "Since the passage of Amendment 64, jurisdictions across the state have noted significant violent crime related to marijuana cultivation and distribution," he wrote. "Our jurisdiction of Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties — 45 percent more populous than Denver — has had at least eleven homicides motivated by marijuana since passage of Amendment 64, including the Geerdes murder."

After the sentencing, Brauchler issued a new statement about the slaying: "It is outrageous behavior best reserved for a Hollywood movie.  For all that he has taken from others, Geerdes has now lost almost everything. That is justice in this case."
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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