District Attorney defends charges

Oldham: Decision in Lopez death based on legal definitions, burden of proof

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Elizabeth Oldham

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District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham addresses Lopez case

Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham discusses the charges filed against Eduardo and David Capote. The brothers are facing various charges of assault in connection with the Jan. 5, 2009, death of Richard Lopez.

Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham discusses the charges filed against Eduardo and David Capote. The brothers are facing various charges of assault in connection with the Jan. 5, 2009, death of Richard Lopez.

— Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham said she's confident she made the right decision by filing assault charges against Eduardo and David Capote.

The Miami brothers are charged with several counts of assault in connection with a January fight that led to the death of Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez in downtown Steamboat Springs. After Oldham announced the charges Monday, a couple of Steamboat Springs police officials and a member of Lopez's family said they had hoped for more severe charges, such as manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

Oldham said Friday that based on legal definitions and what must be proven for each charge, she made the correct decision.

Lopez died Jan. 5 of severe brain and head trauma - allegedly after suffering a punch to the face from Eduardo Capote Jr. Police say the blow knocked Lopez to the ground, and a coroner ruled the fatal injury occurred when his head struck the pavement.

Lopez, 37, was stationed in North Carolina and vacationing in Steamboat at the time of the incident, which began as a verbal dispute in a local bar. The two groups left the bar separately, and a physical altercation took place at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue.

Eduardo Capote Jr. was charged with second-degree assault and two counts of third-degree assault. David Capote, his brother, was charged with third-degree assault in connection with the fight but is not accused of being directly involved with Lopez's death.

To charge Eduardo Capote Jr. with manslaughter, Oldham said she would have had to prove that he was "reckless" and that he knew one punch would kill Lopez.

"It's not should he have known, (it's) would a reasonable person have known (that one punch would kill Lopez)," she said Friday. "I would have difficulties in this case proving what was in his mind before he did that."

By going with the assault charge, Oldham said she instead must prove that he intended to cause bodily injury and did cause severe bodily injury.

Lopez's sister, Mary Ventura, said earlier this week that she was upset with the charge of assault because it was not harsh enough.

"You can commit murder in Colorado and get away with it; it's as simple as that," she said.

Second-degree assault and manslaughter are Class 4 felonies. Oldham said the charge of assault can carry a sentence up to three times as long as a manslaughter charge.

Manslaughter can bring a term of two to six years in prison, she said, while second-degree assault can bring between five and 16 years.

"Almost everybody thinks manslaughter is a better charge. Somebody died. Manslaughter sounds correct," she said. "It's a legitimate question. I don't have qualms with that. But when you look into the legal definition of what recklessness is, discomfort (with the assault charges) should be alleviated."

Oldham said she has not found any other cases that match the exact circumstances of Lopez's death. She said she spoke to district attorneys in other states, but the laws in the other states varied and were not always applicable to Colorado statutes.

She said she did not take the rate of conviction of assault cases versus manslaughter cases into account as she made her decision, instead basing the charge on the facts of the case after listening to audio interviews and reviewing transcripts and witness testimony.

The Capote brothers turned themselves in March 23 to Routt County authorities and were released on bail later that day. Their next court date is a deposition scheduled for May 20.

Comments

seeuski 5 years ago

What a weak lawyer. Are you afraid of the jury? All you need to do is present the evidence and put your faith in the jury. Also, why does this papaer have two versions of the death? Either there was an altercation or a running sucker punch was the first blow followed by kicking and punching of a prone and unconcious victim, as has been reported here via witnesses. I can only imagine what it must have sounded like when Lopez's head slammed into the pavement and to then continue to pummel the defenseless guy is where you prove intent Darling, that is what was in his mind, HARM resulting in death.

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justice4all 5 years ago

Summary: Our DA says that a class 4 felony was commited, to wit, assault., 2nd degree. Under the felony murder rule, a death resulting from a voluntarily commited felony is chargeable as murder. (Colorado Revised Statutes) Case law: persons entering a convenience store and announces "this is a robbery give me the money". The clerk suffers a heart attack and dies. Appropriate charge= murder. Ms Oldham, we had confidence in you . We gave you our vote. We gave you a job. Now do it!

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Kristopher Hammond 5 years ago

Felony murder must be charged by the DA. It was not.

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oldskoolstmbt 5 years ago

what a total let-down of our community! i guess it's ok to murder someone because your under the influence and you didn't "know" that blow to the face was going to be linked to the death of the other person...grow some balls and stand up to what you did ( since now you do KNOW) eduardo and david capote,really!

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