Wednesday, September 6, 2006
It is unbelievable that the Steamboat Pilot & Today has chosen to report the story concerning the burglary at the Sweet Pea Produce on a holiday weekend without ever checking the facts of the case with the District Attorney's Office.
Instead, they chose to rely on local defense attorneys and victims who have totally changed their position.
These are the facts, according to the police reports that were filed with the District Attorney's Office.
The two defendants were seen by a concerned citizen and his family. One of the defendants searched the "Dumpster" in front of the store, and the other defendant urinated on the building. The citizen saw the two men walk to the back of the building, where they were looking through the fence at the interior of the business. The two jumped over the fence into the business.
The concerned citizen reported the burglary in progress to the police department. Three police officers arrived and contacted the defendants in the back of the business. They were carrying a bag of fruits and vegetables. They told the officers that they were just digging through the trash. The officers contacted the owner of the business, Katherine Zambrana.
She responded to the scene and looked through the bag of produce. She said, "These all came from inside of the store. ... This is not old stuff, I didn't throw this out."
She then looked through a box next to the trash can and said, "That fruit they had didn't come from here ... even if it did, we still sell this for animal food."
Zambrana then looked around and noticed a tape measure and a utility knife lying (sic) on the ground next to a shed in the grassy area of the yard. She stated, "These aren't supposed to be here, either. I put these back next to the other tools."
Zambrana then went to the front of the business with the officers and commented that the gate was ajar and not in its original place. Inside the business, she noticed a sign on the floor that had been knocked over and missing items from an open-face cooler. She stated that the items in the bag were all located together in that cooler. She also told police that the bag the defendants were carrying were all located inside the store and not outside.
Officers have no obligation to ask victims whether they want to press charges, but the officers did ask Zambrana what she wanted to see happen. She stated, "I want to press charges ... all the way."
She not only told the officers that she wanted to press charges, but she also filled out a statement form in her own handwriting that says: "Katherine Zambrana, owner of Sweet Pea Market, would like to press charges for theft. Stolen fresh produce. Also attempted to steal tools. (This produce came from inside our locked store). Urinating on my place of business. Fresh produce - $15 estimated worth."
Police officers do not arrest suspects for burglary unless they have probable cause to think that they have entered the building and committed a crime. The reports were reviewed by Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James, who not only believed that there was probable cause but also that he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial that the crime of burglary had been committed.
When a victim of a crime does not wish to follow through with the prosecution, he or she is asked to fill out a written form with the District Attorney's Office, and that form is placed in the case file. The owners of the store never expressed a wish to drop the prosecution, and there is no written form in the file.
If this case could not have been proven as a burglary, or even if it had been a weak case, the case would not have been taken to trial. These defendants were evidently advised by several attorneys that they should take the misdemeanor plea offer rather than go to trial. The court always has the option of rejecting any plea offer. The court rejects stipulated sentences for a number of reasons, including a sentence that is too lenient or too harsh.
One of the defendants had $402.20 in his pockets, and the other one had $108.50 in his possession when they were arrested on a Monday night around 8:30 p.m. They were not starving and penniless as they have been portrayed. As the District Attorney, I have a mandate to protect the safety and property of the citizens of Moffat, Routt and Grand counties.
Kerry St. James has been a prosecutor for 25 years. He has been a tremendous advocate for the rights of all victims in this district for 19 years, and I have complete confidence in his abilities in general and in this particular case. A complete set of the police reports that document these facts are available for anyone in the public at the District Attorney's Office.