Steamboat Springs Wes Crider, the former Colorado State Patrol trooper charged with abusing his infant son, Matthew, pleaded guilty Friday morning to reduced charges.
A sentencing hearing has been set for Sept. 1.
"This certainly has a heart-wrenching component that isn't present in a crime involving property," District Attorney Paul McLimans said following Friday's hearing. "This is a very tough case. We didn't want to diminish the seriousness of the charge or the terrible injuries that Matthew will live with for the rest of his life."
Specifics about the brain damage Matthew suffered at the hands of his father haven't been made public, but the 9-month-old boy is reportedly blind.
Crider was arrested in January after taking Matthew, then 9 weeks old, to Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs. Doctors caring for the infant told authorities they believed he had suffered non-accidental brain trauma complicated by neglect on Crider's part, and that the injuries were consistent with shaken baby syndrome. At the time, Crider said his son had fallen from a futon mattress.
Crider could serve a prison term of two to eight years after pleading guilty Friday to "child abuse resulting in serious injury through criminal negligence," a class four felony. The plea bargain also preserves the judge's ability to consider probation and no prison time in pronouncing a sentence in connection with that charge. However, Crider also faces mandatory imprisonment of one year in connection with his guilty plea on a lesser felony charge. That plea was related to a bail bond violation that occurred in February. If the judge were to sentence Crider to prison on the child abuse charge, the one-year term would be served consecutively.
Under the original charges, he would have faced a mandatory prison term of 10 to 32 years had he been convicted. Crider previously entered a plea of "not guilty" on those charges.
Crider sat quietly in court on Friday, positioned between public defenders Bill Schurman and Norm Townsend. He was wearing a pair of Western boots, new jeans and a Western-style burgundy shirt. McLimans and Deputy District Attorney Charles Feldmann sat at another table. Also present in the courtroom was Crider's estranged wife, Jacie.
At one point, Crider had to compose himself before answering a question from District Judge Joel Thompson about his understanding of the plea bargain. And when the judge asked Crider "How do you plead?" Crider pronounced the word "guilty" so softly that Thompson had to ask him to repeat himself.
Friday's plea bargain with the district attorney's office waives a jury trial set for Oct. 10. If Thompson finds aggravating circumstances related to the child abuse case, he could expand the range of a prison sentence up to 16 years. The guilty plea also means that Crider faces a mandatory three years of parole on the child abuse case. If Thompson finds aggravating circumstances in connection with the bond violation, the mandatory one-year imprisonment could be extended to three years, followed by one year of mandatory parole.
McLimans said he was comfortable that the range of punishment afforded the judge by the lesser charge fit the crime.
"Obviously I would not have done this if I wasn't satisfied, because this was certainly a triable case," McLimans said.
Friday's hearing had been scheduled for 9 a.m. to hear motions pertaining to the upcoming trial. But the start was delayed as the prosecutors and the defense conferred on the terms of the plea bargain with law enforcement officials involved in the investigation of the crime. McLimans said he had informed Thompson that it was important to him to gain the consent of Jacie Crider on the plea bargain.
The district attorney added that earlier negotiations over a plea bargain had taken place some time ago, but they did not come to fruition. He declined to say what had changed in the negotiations to allow the two sides to agree.
Schurman said the plea bargain swung on the issue of whether the judge would be able to consider probation in sentencing Crider. Previously, the district attorney had insisted that prison be part of any plea bargain agreement. Schurman added that in all cases, defendants have to make their own decision about whether or not to accept a plea bargain, and the outcome of a trial is never certain.
"Our feeling all along was that the outcome would probably be what he ended up pleading guilty to," Schurman said. "In a trial, you don't know, there's a chance he could have been convicted of the higher charge."
Crider remained free on bond after Friday's hearing, but Thompson gave him until 9 a.m. Monday to obtain necessary signatures on two existing bonds in order to extend them. If he is not able to obtain those signatures from his brother Kevin and a local bail bondsman on time, he could be arrested and incarcerated in the Routt County Jail.
Thompson told Crider in court on Friday that he would consult a presentence investigation conducted by the parole department before pronouncing sentence. That investigation will take into account Crider's social and personal history, and make a recommendation on the plea agreement and the sentence, Thompson said.
Thompson set the hearing for 1 p.m. Sept. 1 and McLimans asked for the entire afternoon to conduct the hearing.
"I would anticipate we would want to present some evidence that's pertinent to the case," McLimans told the judge.
Thompson granted three hours.
Townsend, the public defender, said afterward he expects there will be considerable discussion about the one-year imprisonment Crider faces in connection with the bond terms. Crider admitted that he contacted his estranged wife in February, contrary to the provisions of a bail bond that allowed him to leave jail after being arrested on suspicion of child abuse.
Townsend said the state statute uses the phrase "mandatory imprisonment" in connection with the one-year penalty. He said he and Schurman interpret that to mean the sentence could include a year in the CAPS program, which allows prisoners to go to work during the day. Townsend said it's his impression that the district attorney interprets the statute to mean Crider must serve the one year in the Colorado Department of Corrections.
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