Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs High School freshman Randall Nelson has succeeded in nearly everything he can control.
When he needed help at school, Randall found a tutor. When his jump shot didn't fall on the basketball court, the 15-year-old practiced more. But one thing Randall allegedly had no control over, according to court documents, were ongoing race-related taunts that led to an altercation between himself and another teenager when Randall was in eighth grade.
On Thursday, Randall, who is black, was found not guilty of assault and disorderly conduct charges stemming from a February 2007 incident that left another boy with a broken jaw. Defense attorney Kris Hammond said that responding violently to racially motivated threats was a first for Randall.
But being threatened in Steamboat Springs because of his race was not.
Randall first spoke to his parents about racially motivated incidents in 2003 - and the city of Steamboat Springs has seen other potentially racial incidents, unrelated to Randall's case, in recent years.
Thursday, Hammond said that the student Randall struck called Randall a slave and one day drew a swastika that he showed to Randall and a Jewish student during class.
Hammond noted that the history of interaction between the two boys was enough to convince the jury that there was a real threat facing Randall at the time of the incident.
Similar threats allegedly began years ago.
In the fall of 2003, numerous appearances of racially motivated graffiti were reported at Steamboat Springs High School. A short time later, Randall - then a fifth-grader - was verbally harassed by two older students on a bus ride home.
According to the account Randall gave his mother, who then relayed the details to a Steamboat Springs Police Department detective, two high school-aged males boarded the bus at its high school stop on the afternoon of Nov. 3, 2003.
The boys made their way to the back of the bus, where Randall was seated with some of his friends, and told the fifth-grader to move his "black ass," his mother said at the time. Despite attempts by students Randall's age to stop the harassment, the alleged offenders pretended to whip Randall like a slave and continued to berate him.
High school officials said at the time that they wanted to address the situation through curriculum and discuss it with their students. Former School Resource Officer Deb Funston investigated the incidents of graffiti, but the investigation didn't identify any suspects.
In 2004, Cameron Burney, then a high school junior, told Steamboat Springs City Council members that he had been the target of racial graffiti at the school for many months.
Burney and his mother, Kimberley Mares, said they wanted to make the situation public knowledge because they didn't feel the school district or anyone else had taken appropriate measures to deal with the issue.
In July 2007, a 29-year-old Michigan man was arrested at a construction site on suspicion of stabbing a black man during a July 6 argument at Sunpie's Bistro.
Reggie Sellars, a former tutor of Randall's, said that as a black man, he feels Steamboat is a very welcoming community despite isolated, racially motivated incidents in the area.
"This is one of the most educated communities I've been in," said Sellars, who has addressed high school students on diversity issues. "There may not be a lot of diversity in the area, but many of the students get to travel with the arts and sports. They have seen so many things outside of Steamboat."
A heavy burden
Randall celebrated the verdict Thursday with his parents, friends and family at the Old West Steakhouse.
The restaurant was filled with laughter and talk of basketball practice and the weather - basically, anything other than the case, which Deb Nelson, Randall's mother, said had been a heavy burden on the family for almost a year.
"We'd like to celebrate what we feel like is justice tonight," she said.