Monday, September 4, 2006
Steamboat Springs Several local politicians and attorneys are urging the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office to reconsider a six-month jail sentence given last week to two men who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespass for stealing rotten produce from a garbage can.
A Steamboat Springs City Council member, the Democratic candidate for Routt County sheriff and several local attorneys are among the voices expressing their disdain for the punishment given Wednesday to Giles Charle, 24, of Somersworth, N.H., and David Siller, 27, of Wayne, Pa. The men pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespass, were sentenced to six months in Routt County Jail and ordered to 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 on suspicion of felony second-degree burglary.
The men admitted to jumping a fence and taking produce from Sweat Pea Produce on Yampa Street.
As part of a plea agreement with Assistan District Attorney Kerry St. James, the men pleaded guilty to the lesser misdemeanor charge in exchange for having the felony they were facing dismissed.
A Steamboat Pilot & Today criminal history check on both men did not turn up any previous offenses.
The plea agreement, which called for the six-month sentence, has outraged many in the community and has put pressure on the DA's Office to revisit the case.
Steamboat Springs City Council member Towny Anderson said he plans to send a letter to District Attorney Bonnie Roesink and Kerry St. James expressing the distress he hopes his fellow council members have about the sentencing.
"This is distressing to me. This is not who we are. To choose these two guys to make an example of : what is the point?" Anderson said Sunday.
"Anybody who read these articles, or at least 95 percent of the community, would immediately see that this was clearly a miscarriage of justice and that the assistant district attorney has gone completely awry and lost his better sense of justice and judgment."
Anderson said he hopes city officials will come to a unanimous decision and send the letter. In the meantime, Anderson is encouraging community members to do the same.
"What this boils down to is: Can we get the district attorney to overrule this sentence? I don't know the answer to that, but if she can, it would behoove the community to appeal to her as strongly and broadly as possible," he said.
Steamboat Springs attorney Kris Hammond, who was consulted about the case by Charle's family in New Hampshire, said Roesink has the power to overrule the sentence.
"(Roesink) is the boss of (St. James). If she thinks he made a bad call, she can come in and change that," he said.
Hammond said he has never seen an overturned sentence in the 14th Judicial District, but he added that if there were a case that deserved it, it would be that of Charle and Siller.
"I don't think I've ever seen it happen, but I've also never seen a case that wouldn't warrant it more," he said. "I can't see how justice was served here," he said.
Steamboat Springs attorney Wayne Westphale, who represented the men, called the case "disappointing" and said he has little faith his clients' fates will change anytime soon.
"The DA's Office has an incredible amount of leverage in these types of cases, and (St. James) exercised all of that leverage and punished these guys in what most people would call an excessive sentence," Westphale said. "(St. James) had his mind set, and that was it."
Westphale said that as part of the plea agreement, the men agreed to waive their right to appeal the decision, which is a common practice with the 14th Judicial District DA's Office, but not outside this district.
"I think the odds of the sentencing getting overturned is small," he said. "It would probably take a different DA's Office to have something happen, but I would put pressure on the community to call or write the DA's Office. I don't think it will make a difference, but it couldn't hurt."
Gary Wall, a private investigator who is running for Routt County sheriff, said the punishment is embarrassing.
"This is outrageous. It's a bold statement, but in my 40 years, I have never seen a more severe punishment for what they did," he said.
Wall called St. James' actions "an abuse of prosecutorial discretion."
"This is an embarrassment to our entire community," he said. "This whole thing should be reconsidered."
St. James and Roesink could not be reached for comment Sunday.