Juvenile who shot, killed dog near Carbondale sentenced to two years in youth division
GARFIELD COUNTY — A Garfield County district judge sentenced a 14-year-old boy Wednesday to two years in the Colorado Division of Youth Services for shooting a dog to death and transgressions he committed in two unrelated cases.
That’s according to prosecutor Tony Hershey, who provided limited details about the proceeding Judge Paul Metzger closed to the public, other than those parties directly involved in the case.
“This is about protecting the community and helping this child,” Hershey said after the hearing.
Hershey and public defender Elise Myer had been under the judge’s directive not to speak publicly about the case. After his decision to close the hearing, however, Metzger said, “I think it’s appropriate for the court for a reporting of the outcome of the sentence as it relates to the case.”
Held in the Garfield County Courthouse, the proceeding wrapped up a case stemming from the Jan. 24 arrest of the boy, who was 13 at the time, for gunning down a yellow Labrador retriever in a residential neighborhood near Carbondale.
The judge permitted Kirsten Pamp-Friel, who owned the dog Otis with her husband and daughter, to attend the hearing because she was a victim in the case.
“It’s been such a long, drawn-out thing, it’s hard to feel happy about any of it,” she said afterward. “But I’m glad to move on.”
Pamp-Friel has been in touch with the juvenile’s parents, she said.
“His family reached out to express their sadness about it,” she said. “They are lovely people.”
The parents previously declined interview requests from The Aspen Times, and they could not be reached by telephone after the hearing. They were in court with their son, who had clean-cut hair and wore a grey sweatshirt hoodie.
The defendant, who has been in juvenile custody since Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies arrested him, has not apologized to Pamp-Friel and did not speak at the hearing, Pamp-Friel said.
The judge also allowed the owner of Otis’s mother to make an opening statement at the hearing on the condition he leave the proceeding after his remarks. The judge also permitted the owner to have the dog in the courtroom while he made his statement.
Woodland Park resident Richard Metcalf, who made the statement, would not comment afterward about what he said.
“Given the controversy that has existed in regards to publication of the material, I’m declining to make a comment,” he said outside the courtroom.
Myer argued that Metcalf and his dog should not have been allowed to attend the hearing because they were not victims. Hershey had given Metcalf permission to attend on the basis that he also was a victim, and the owner and his dog cleared the courthouse security before entering the courtroom.
“Otis’s owner, I have zero objections to her being in the courtroom,” Myer told Judge Metzger in open court before the hearing began. “I do have an objection to the other interested citizen of being in the courtroom, the gentleman who did bring with him a dog and that dog that did birth Otis. I have an extreme objection to a dog being allowed in the courtroom.
“The dog is not a service animal. The dog is not a therapy animal in any way. I have concerns that the security guards blindly and without consulting the appropriate parties just allowed a dog into a courtroom because Mr. Hershey said it’s OK.”
The judge’s sentence was part of a global disposition in which the three criminal cases were adjudicated with a single punishment. The nature of the other two cases was not discussed in the open hearing.
“I”m dealing with one case involving the killing of the dog, and I’m dealing with another case in which I always close the courtroom,” Metzger said.
Colorado’s revised statutes do not specify which juvenile hearings a judge can close to the public, but they do provide a judge with leverage on whether to keep a proceeding open or closed.
“The general public shall not be excluded unless the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child or of the community to exclude the general public, and, in such event, the court shall admit only such persons as have an interest in the case or the work of the court, including persons whom the district attorney, the county or city attorney, the child, or the parents, guardian, or other custodian of the child wish to be present,” according to the statutes.
That was how Metzger drew his conclusion, saying “it is in (the juvenile’s) best interest to have this proceeding closed to the public.”
Hershey argued that the media should be allowed to attend the hearing; Myer opposed it, as did the juvenile’s case manager. Myer also was opposed the judge’s allowing the sentence be made public.
“I’m aware that this case has gotten a lot of publicity,” Hershey said, “and a very smart lawyer yesterday told me that if it hadn’t been a dog involved here, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten as much attention. But regardless, it has, your honor. And I think essentially the public has a right to know.”
Without media attention, Hershey argued, “everyone today who is working, who has an interest in this case, even after a year, or may not have interest in this case, is being denied access to the court — not just (the reporter), but every single person who can read The Aspen Times, not just the paper copy, but the online version.”
Myer, however, said Hershey is feeling “political pressure” to publicize the case because of community questions about it.
“I understand, and I believe, that there is significant pressure that has been placed on Mr. Hershey,” she said. “People have called him over and over and over again every time (the juvenile) has had court. I understand that he feels certain political pressures.”
Myer said the defendant and his family, as well herself, have been subjected to threats of violence and online vitriol.
“When we have people calling for violence to be done to a child, calling a child a monster, he has to hear about these things,” she said “He shouldn’t have to hear that this is what is being said of him or about him. He shouldn’t have to know that because of certain allegations against him that his parents have suffered community ramifications.
“This has been an incredibly emotional and difficult process for them that they have suffered certain consequences that people look at them differently; people don’t talk to them. They’ve been chastised by the community, and while there is very much an interest of people in the community to know what’s going on, there is no regard for really the wellbeing of the community, because if there were, we wouldn’t have certain things printed or allowed in newspapers. We wouldn’t condone that.”
Hershey countered: “All the problems that Ms. Meyer said can be resolved if the light of the First Amendment shines in this courtroom. There are always going to be crazy, stupid people out there who don’t get it. But if you keep it a secret, if you keep this a star chamber, my concern is that it could be worse, so I just ask that court follow the Constitution of the state of Colorado and the United States.”
Metzger has kept the hearings closed since the defendant’s second court appearance in February.
While Pitkin County deputies arrested the defendant, the case was held in Garfield County because he also faced criminal charges there.
The same day as the teenager’s arrest, he allegedly left the Garfield County Courthouse where he was due on other charges. The boy left while his guardian was using the bathroom.
From there, he broke into a home in the Glenwood Springs area and stole at least one firearm before he hitched a ride to the Crystal River Valley area where he purportedly fired two shots near a 2-year-old yellow labrador retriever that was on private property.
The boy fired two shots from a trail near the home. The first shot, from a revolver, misfired. The second one, from a rifle with a scope, hit the chest of Otis, which then went inside the home on the property. The dog later died on the living room floor, where one of his owners found him. Another yellow lab on the property, Daisy, was not hurt, family members said.
In association with that incident, Hershey charged the boy with cruelty to animals and burglary, both of which would have been felony counts if he had been charged as an adult.
The Youth Services is a division of the Colorado Department of Human Services. For the time being, the boy will be the custody of its Grand Junction facility, Hershey said. He also will undergo further evaluations.
The killing has taken a toll on her family, Pamp-Friel said.
“I don’t get my dog back,” she said. “There is a before and now there’s an after. And to be honest, it just changes you.”