Jonathan Alexzander Waugh to serve 16 years after pleading guilty to crimes against his aunt
January 8, 2019
CRAIG — Expressing a desire to take responsibility for his crimes, Jonathan Alexzander Waugh on Monday, Jan. 7, pled guilty to one count of first-degree assault resulting in serious bodily injury (strangulation).
He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and three years mandatory parole, to be served consecutively to prior sentences resulting from guilty pleas he made on charges of assault, burglary, and arson out of Mesa County.
"I've seen a number of terrifying, disturbing cases during my time on the bench. This was absolutely terrifying," said District Court Judge Shelley Hill before sentencing.
Waugh's appearance in Moffat County District Court on Monday will likely be his last, as he will soon be transferred into the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections.
The sentence ended six months of uncertainty and some of the fear felt by Waugh's victim, his 70-year-old aunt, Susan Reeves.
In his remarks, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Tjosvold said the story began early in 2018.
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Waugh, anticipating his release from prison on parole from prior convictions, called his aunt to ask her for a place to live.
"John is the youngest son of one of my brother's," explained Reeves, who said she cared for her nephew.
"I feel like I did about everything I could for him," she said, describing her efforts to provide him a home, drive him around as he searched for work, and prepare meals for him.
Her kind-heartedness and innocence about the drug culture would ultimately put her life in danger, when Waugh moved into his aunt's house in April 2018, Tjosvold said.
Despite her firm rule of "no drugs allowed" there was evidence Waugh was using methamphetamine while in Reeves’ home and that "put her in grave danger," Tjosvold said.
He then recounted the crime that occurred June 21.
Reeves was using a computer when Waugh, high on meth, approached her from behind yelling: "You killed Uncle Dennis. Now, you have to die," Tjosvold said.
He added that Reeves had nothing to do with the death of her brother, Waugh's uncle, who died of a heart attack many years before.
Waugh began to "punch" his aunt with his fists, then covered her head with a blanket and used a cord in an attempt "to suffocate and strangle her, and when she passed out, he set the house on fire," Tjosvold said.
Her last thought before passing out was "I'm gonna die here today," Reeves said. "I believe God was with me. I woke up to the smoke alarm."
She wasn't sure how she managed to roll over and crawl out of the house on bad knees. Once out of the front door, Reeves was unable to make it off the porch of her burning home, but was able to reach a phone to call 911.
Hill said she believes Reeve's survival is due to her strength.
"The first thing they did was shut off the gas and electric. … The fire ruined the back part of my house" where Waugh had started it, Reeves said, expressing her gratitude to emergency responders.
She later learned Waugh had turned on all the gas burners on the stove at the front of the house before fleeing the scene.
"It's miraculous that she woke up. It's miraculous that she got out. It's miraculous that she survived," Tjosvold said.
What followed was a visit to the hospital for Reeves, who received treatment for multiple injuries, including extensive bruising and lacerations, as well as a broken nose, cheekbone, and eye socket.
"My nose will never be straight again," she said.
A five-hour manhunt ensued after a BOLO was issued to activate all law enforcement in the search for Waugh.
He ended up invading the home of another Craig resident in an attempted burglary. He was found by the homeowner and the homeowner's friend as he "holed up in the garage hiding to use meth," Tjosvold said.
Waugh destroyed the garage in his attempt to escape law enforcement.
Reeves said June 21, 2018, was the start of a "year of disasters" that included the death or her son from congestive heart failure, which left her family "destroyed" and herself angry, mistrustfu,l and fearful.
"It's terrible to lose faith in the people you are supposed to care about. … I'm so afraid if he gets out that he'll kill some innocent person. I'm not quite up to forgiving John for what he did. … John should serve every day of his sentence," she told Hill.
Before sentencing, Kate Bush, Waugh's public defender, made statements about her client.
"I hope to briefly explain some factors," she said.
Waugh had no criminal history until June 2014, when, at age 33, something triggered underlying mental illness resulting in his use of methamphetamine to self-medicate, Bush said.
She added: "Without drugs in his system, he would not have taken these actions."
Bush said accepting the plea was the first step in Waugh taking responsibility for his crimes.
"His hope is, after a long time in jail, where he can be medicated and receive counseling, he will be able to deal with his illness. His hope is for reintegration once released from prison to become a healthy member of society and make reparations for what he's done," Bush said.
After several postponements, Waugh appeared in person in district court and spoke on his own behalf.
"I want to be a man for the first time in my life and take responsibility," said an emotional Waugh.
He added that he agreed with the 16 year sentence proposed by Tjosvold.
"Sixteen years is a long time. … I plan to get my education, to do what's right," Waugh said.
In response to his aunt's statement, he said, "I wouldn't forgive me either. … Drugs and alcohol has officially ruined my life. This might be the last time I see my family. This is it. The only way I can reconcile it is by doing what I'm supposed to do every day."
He said that, on the day of the assault, he was "out of my freaking mind," but he added he is not a bad guy and has to stop "beating myself up" for not being a good father, son, and person.
"There are real bad guys where I'm going," he said, before adding: "I'm sorry. I apologize. The crime has to stop."
Waugh was originally charged with attempted first-degree murder, first-degree arson, two counts of second-degree assault, felony criminal mischief, second-degree burglary, and attempted first-degree assault.
These charges, all felonies, were dismissed with the exception of the first-degree assault charge, for which Waugh was sentenced.
At the start of the morning's proceedings, in addition to a long list of rights waived by accepting the plea bargain, Waugh also agreed to waive his rights to a pre-sentencing investigation.
Waugh was credited with 199 days served on his 16-year sentence.
The deal requires the latest sentence be served consecutively to the six years of community corrections ordered after he was found guilty of burglary of a building and arson out of Mesa County. That sentence was ordered to be served concurrently to 18 months work release ordered after Waugh pled guilty to third-degree assault and reckless attempt to cause injury, also out of Mesa County.
The District Attorney's office asked for and received up to 91 days to request "substantial reparations" that will likely see Waugh sign over title to two vehicles Reeves hopes to sell to restore a bank account "drained" by expenses related to the ordeal.
Before delivering her sentence in a case she called "sad," Hill told Waugh he was very lucky his aunt survived.
"I choose to believe this wouldn't have happened if you'd been in your right mind," Hill said. "I hope you make your life one well lived from this time forward, Mr. Waugh."
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.