The sister of Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez, along with police officers involved in the investigation of Lopez's death, said they would have liked to have seen more severe charges filed against the two Miami brothers accused of playing a role in his death.
"I think the whole Colorado system is screwed up. You can commit murder in Colorado and get away with it; it's as simple as that," said Mary Ventura, Lopez's sister. She was with him when he died in a Denver hospital Jan. 5.
David and Eduardo Capote were charged Monday with several accounts of assault stemming from the Jan. 2 fight that led to Lopez's death.
Authorities allege the Capotes got in a fight with Lopez, and an arrest warrant accuses Eduardo Capote Jr. of punching Lopez in the face, causing him to fall back and suffer a fatal head injury.
Capt. Bob DelValle, in charge of the detective division of the Steamboat Springs Police Department, estimates his office spent between 600 and 800 man-hours investigating the case. He would like to have seen a charge of manslaughter.
"The district attorney chose to go with the second-degree assault, and we anticipated the manslaughter," DelValle said. "Typically, the manslaughter charge is pretty common where there's some kind of altercation and somebody dies."
Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham, who made the ultimate decision on the assault charges, said she selected a lesser charge that she thinks she can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
"I feel very strongly about the second-degree assault and (that) he did intend to cause him harm and even death," Oldham said earlier this week.
Second-degree assault implies the suspect intended to cause bodily injury and did cause serious bodily injury. Manslaughter is when a person recklessly causes the death of another person. Both are class 4 felonies.
Capt. Joel Rae said he, too, expected manslaughter, but he understands why Oldham chose to pursue assault.
"The biggest thing with this is that you have an individual in this case that died as a result of that assault. When people see that, I think you expect to see a charge of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide or second-degree homicide for causing the death of another person," Rae said. "In looking at this and speaking with the district attorney, I'll say that we felt that there should be a manslaughter charge. However, the district attorney is ultimately responsible for the successful prosecution of the case."
David Capote is charged with three counts of third-degree assault and faces as many as two years in prison for his role in the fight with Lopez's companions.
No comparable case
DelValle said he was not aware of any other cases in Steamboat where a fight resulted in a death.
"In most cases I've seen where a fight occurred, it was mutual," he said. "This was not a mutual combat situation."
Attorney Charles Feldmann, who represents the Capote brothers, said his clients were defending themselves from an attack by Lopez and the two men with him.
One of the women accompanying the Capote brother initially told investigators that Lopez and his friends - brothers Tim and Michael Wesley Mottlau - circled them as they waited for a cab. When confronted by an investigator with inconsistencies in her story, she later recanted that statement but maintained that she did not see Eduardo Capote Jr. hit Lopez.
DelValle said he and his investigators interviewed more than 30 witnesses in the case and most, with the exception of the Capotes and their companions, agreed that Lopez was standing in the street with his hands by his side when he was struck.
"It is my experience that when you're talking to different groups of people, suspects have their perception, victims have their perception, but usually the witnesses who are not involved directly, their emotions don't come into play, their perception is not obscured by the emotions or actions of another," he said. "They usually will give you a clearer description of the events than the actual participants that were involved."
Ventura said her brother's hands were not injured after the incident, a statement confirmed by DelValle. Neither of the Capote brothers appeared to be injured a day after the fight, according to the arrest warrant.
In court documents, Feldmann alleges that Lopez and the Mottlaus were the aggressors and that the Capotes were merely trying to protect themselves and their companions from the servicemen.