The Old Man and the Weed

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Dugan loses his breath climbing out the canyon and has to stop to gather oxygen. "Don't have a heart attack," Raymond advises. "I don't know if I can haul you out. How much do you weigh?"

"About 203," Dugan guesses.
"Jesus! I never reached that. Most I got to was 180, when I was in the Army and fat."

Still, once at the top, Raymond needs several moments to recover. He coughs and hawks up phlegm. "Goddamned snot to hell," he says. "It don't pay to get old."

Dugan heard about Darol Biddle from a friend, and one day soon after Raymond had been charged with cultivating marijuana, the two men made an appointment and drove to Pueblo, a two-and-a-half hour trip, to meet with the lawyer. "He said his retainer was $5,000, right now, and it could get to $10,000 if the case ever went to trial," Dugan recalls. "Raymond wrote him the $5,000 check right then."

Not many people can write checks for several thousand dollars right out of their account, Dugan admits. But he adds that Raymond has saved more money than people think. He also earns about $4,000 a year from the rent the Gutierrez brothers collect for leasing the land to ranchers; they all retired from active ranching themselves about eight years ago. And apart from the $250 or so a month that Raymond spends for food, what other expenses are there?

The proceedings against his cousin were hard on Dugan. Each time there was a hearing on Raymond's case, Dugan would drive out to his place the night before and pick him up and return to La Junta. Then, early the next morning, they would make the long trip to Trinidad for legal matters that more often than not were decided in less than five minutes.

Biddle's first strategy was to suggest that Raymond simply present himself to a jury and stand back and wait for their sympathy. "He said we should just go into court and show Raymond and a picture of the path down the box canyon and say, 'Look, he's an old man, he couldn't possibly walk up and down there,'" Dugan recalls.

But each time the lawyer brought up the idea, Raymond would object. "He'd say, 'But I can do that. I do it all the time.' So we had to find a different strategy," Dugan says.

"At first," Dugan continues, "Raymond thought that his brothers might have placed the marijuana to get him off the land and get his part of the ranch. Then he thought it could be the neighbors, who are interested in buying the ranch."

The police, however, noting that the main trail leading to the isolated site ran right by Raymond's house, thought otherwise, even though Langford concedes that Raymond's lifestyle isn't a common one among drug dealers. "He didn't seem to have any rewards from selling," he says.

"Maybe he had some help," Langford hypothesizes. "But I'd have a hard time believing he didn't know anything about it."

Still, acknowledging that it would be hard to prove one way or another what had really occurred in the isolated box canyon hidden in Raymond Gutierrez's homestead, the Las Animas County District Attorney's Office in June agreed to a deferred prosecution: If Raymond stays out of trouble for two years, the marijuana charge against him will vanish.

"Once you get into a case, some nuances can show up that don't appear on paper," explains Assistant District Attorney Dana Hlavac. "The confidence of the original police report wasn't duplicated in the DA's follow-up investigation. Let's just say that we didn't have enough evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt."

So the story remains unsettled and with no satisfying ending. It's another mystery whose telling is destined to stand out like a tall feature in a flat landscape.

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer

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