On July 22, the short life of Thomas LaPerch came to a brutal end after he succumbed to injuries sustained during a fight with another inmate while imprisoned at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City.
LaPerch died less than two weeks after his 27th birthday and a little more than two years past his conviction for the 2014 murder of William Burchett, a beloved local musician he'd met after responding to an ad on Craigslist.
After LaPerch's death, Michele Ater, who describes herself as Burchett's life partner, posted a graphic on her Facebook page that reads, "Justice is served." The responses to the item include the following:
Thank God that asshole is no longer living. I am still mad at him. I hope he is in Hell.
The universe took care of this and erased a horrible blight on humanity.
Best case of Karma I've seen in a while!
Another person wrote, "Billy knew early on. We all learned after it was too late. Now the world knows what evil this person personified."
In conversation, Ater picks up on this theme. She calls the news about LaPerch "bittersweet," but stresses that it wasn't a surprise. "We didn't go for the death penalty," she notes, "but there were little signs that this was going to go quick. And it did."
Burchett was a member of the Resonatorz, a band that had been rocking metro-area venues for years. Here's a shot of the group, with Burchett at the center.....
The details of LaPerch's connection with Burchett and its terrible conclusion can be found in the former's original arrest affidavit, accessible below.
At about 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 15, 2014, the document notes, authorities arrived at Burchett's home, at 711 Iowa Street in Golden, in response to a reported fire.
Heavy smoke was emanating from the structure, and when emergency personnel searched the building, they found Burchett's body in a bedroom.
His head is said to have been charred and blackened. However, further investigation revealed "what appear to be stab wounds to the face, neck and arms," the affidavit states.
An autopsy revealed that Burchett had been stabbed more than twenty times.
Additionally, a blood trail led to a room that had been occupied by an absent resident — a Maryland man named Thomas, who'd moved in about a week earlier after responding to a Craigslist ad.
Investigators soon determined that the home had been ransacked; the affidavit describes "closets emptied out, drawers open, chairs tripped over and travel bags in the living room."
Their interest in Thomas grew even keener after Burchett's brother revealed that William had asked his new roomie to move out the previous day.
Authorities soon released a driver's license photo that showed LaPerch with long hair and a friendly smile.
Once Burchett's roommate had been ID'd as LaPerch, police reached the suspect's brother, who said Thomas had told him during a phone call that he'd been hiking.
That call was traced to a pay phone on the 16th Street Mall, where Thomas was arrested.
Turns out LaPerch was part of a prominent family in Dorchester County, Maryland. He was the grandson of Frederick Malkus, who served as a state representative and senator in Maryland for 48 years before stepping down in 1994.
The Malkus Bridge, a well-known landmark in Cambridge, is named for LaPerch's grandfather.
It took two years for the case to wind its way through the judicial system, a period that "was torture for all of us," Ater concedes. But the jury at the 2016 trial deliberated for less than two hours before finding LaPerch guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree arson, aggravated criminal mischief and first-degree possession of contraband.
According to Ater, LaPerch's facade didn't crack upon learning his fate. "The kid had no remorse," she says. "He didn't apologize or anything."
On the same day in April 2016 that LaPerch was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the Resonatorz staged a celebration of Burchett's life at the Lakewood Grill. And the group has worked hard to keep his memory alive.
In 2017, for instance, members threw their support behind the 5K for $5K Music Run, a fundraiser on behalf of the William Burchett Foundation Scholarship for at-risk youth, with a focus on music. Ater reveals that another run is in the planning stages for May 2019 "to perpetuate his gift and love of music and helping others — and to keep his spirit and his name alive."
For his part, LaPerch wound up at the Colorado State Penitentiary. He was there on July 21 when what the Colorado Department of Corrections describes as a "serious offender fight" took place.
Thus far, CDOC isn't identifying the inmate with whom LaPerch battled or revealing if weapons were part of the story. But the department points out that LaPerch was treated by medical staff and transported to an area hospital. He didn't respond to treatment and was declared dead on the 22nd.
Because the incident is under investigation, the department isn't releasing any additional information beyond stating that "the homicide does not appear to be related to the homicide at Buena Vista Correctional Facility (BVCF) last week." The man killed in that July 15 incident was 32-year-old Matthew Massaro, whose past convictions involved fraud, assault, robbery and motor vehicle theft.
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Ater happened to be at a Resonatorz gig at the Mountain Tap in Applewood when word came down about LaPerch's demise. "We all found out about it together," she notes. "And everybody said they kind of expected this."
Thanks to conversations with law enforcement and others who knew LaPerch, "we knew he was a troublemaker," Ater goes on. "It just seemed like it was going to happen."
When it did, Burchett's friends and family felt a complex mix of emotions, she acknowledges. "Nobody's healed yet, but we're all working on it together. And [LaPerch] was always in the back of my mind. So I guess I'm breathing a little deeper now."
Click to read the Thomas LaPerch arrest affidavit.