Steamboat Springs One of the owners of a fresh produce store said Saturday that it is absurd that two men are in jail for taking spoiled fruit and vegetables from the store's trash area.
On Wednesday, Giles Charle, 24, of Somersworth, N.H., and David Siller, 27, of Wayne, Pa., pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespass and were sentenced to spend six months in Routt County Jail and pay $15 in restitution to Sweet Pea Produce. The men were on their way to the Rainbow Family of Living Light Gathering in North Routt County when they were arrested June 26.
The men admitted that they jumped a fence and took fruits and vegetables from the garbage area at Sweet Pea. They originally were charged with felony second-degree burglary and misdemeanor theft. They accepted the plea agreement offered by Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James, they said, because they did not want to risk being convicted of a felony.
"Once I found out what these guys were being charged with, I contacted (St. James)," said Jonathon Hieb, who owns Sweet Pea with Katherine Zambrana. "I told him, 'We're not behind this prosecution. We don't want anything to do with it.' I thought for sure my input would have some kind of bearing, but he wasn't hearing any of it."
Hieb said St. James told him he was going to make an example of the men.
On Friday, St. James said it was the men's decision to accept the plea agreement. He would not comment on suggestions that he was trying to make an example of Charle and Siller. St. James was not available Saturday for comment. Neither was his boss, District Attorney Bonnie Roesink.
Hieb said police contacted him the night of the incident. Police said a neighbor had reported suspicious men at the store after hours.
When first contacted by police, Hieb said he would press charges. He said the men were found with a Sweet Pea Produce bag, which generally only could be acquired from inside the store. He didn't want them released until he knew what might be missing from or damaged inside the store.
But Hieb said an inspection showed the men never entered the store and must have found one of the store's bags in the trash area. When police gave Hieb and Zambrana paperwork to fill out and offer their side of what happened, Hieb and Zambrana declined and said they did not want to press charges.
"Immediately - the next day - we said, 'We don't want anything to do with this,'" Hieb said.
Hieb said he later learned from Wayne Westphale, the men's attorney, that they were facing felony charges. Hieb said he agreed with Westphale's suggestion of 10 to 20 hours of community service as an appropriate punishment. Westphale could not be reached Saturday for comment.
"These guys jumped over the fence and got some over-ripe produce. What they did, at most, was a temporary slip of judgment," Hieb said. "These guys are not criminals. For them to be in jail is ridiculous."
Charle most recently worked as a social worker. Siller is an Americorps volunteer and a yoga instructor. Both men had plans to go to graduate school, family and friends said.
The men could have accepted a lesser jail sentence.
"They had a choice between accepting a deferred felony with 90 days in jail or a misdemeanor conviction with six months in jail," St. James said Friday. "It came down to whether they wanted a felony conviction with less jail time or a misdemeanor with more jail."
St. James also asked Judge James Garrecht to fine the men $42 for each day they serve in jail, the standard cost of care for inmates. Garrecht refused.
Kris Hammond, a Steamboat Springs attorney, met with the men when they sought a second opinion in their case. Hammond, like Westphale, advised the men to plead to the misdemeanor and accept the six-month sentence.
"The way I put it to them was, 'Could you win your case? Yes. But am I willing to gamble a felony conviction that you're going to win? No,'" Hammond said Saturday.
Hammond said there really was no choice. If they pleaded guilty to the felony, he said, the men faced four years of supervised probation before their records would have been cleared. Also, they would have had to apply for an interstate transfer to serve their probation outside of Colorado.
"Defendants are given these kinds of choices every day," Hammond said. "This one is particularly egregious, but the same kind of thing goes on in a lot of cases."
Shaune McCarthy Charle, Giles Charle's mother, said the men talked to several attorneys, who all advised them to take the misdemeanor deal.
"We've been working on this all summer long," she said. "We just felt like we were completely helpless. Everyone said there was no hope, no hope, no hope. We're absolutely flabbergasted by what has happened."
Hammond said there is little recourse for the men now, barring a decision by the DA's office to amend the agreement and shorten the sentence.
"My job is to defend my clients no matter what," Hammond said. "The DA's job is to seek justice, not just a conviction. It's hard to see the justice in this."