Updated March 31, 2010 at midnight
Steamboat Springs Eduardo Capote will plead guilty to manslaughter and has agreed to three years in jail in connection with the early 2009 fight that led to the death of Richard Lopez, according to new filings at the Routt County Justice Center.
Capote was found not guilty of third-degree assault in connection with the fight, but jurors could not decide on the more serious charge of second-degree assault, a Class 3 felony, relating to his fight with Lopez. Attorneys began working on a deal immediately after the trial, and with input from police and the victim’s family, the two sides settled on a Class 4 felony charge of manslaughter. The plea deal acknowledges that Capote acted recklessly in the incident.
The deal will not be final until April 16, when Capote will officially change his plea in front of District Judge Shelley Hill. Capote has agreed to three years in jail as a part of the deal, but Hill will decide the final sentencing and is not bound by the agreement Capote reached with the District Attorney’s Office.
Capote’s brother, David Capote, also was charged with third-degree assault in connection with the fight and was found not guilty by the jury during the brothers’ joint trial that ended Feb. 10.
Defense attorney Charles Feldmann said he was confident the defense could have won a retrial, but the risks were too high for Eduardo Capote.
“It was a very painful decision for Eddie Capote and his family,” Feldmann said.
Because the second-degree assault charge was designated as a crime of violence, the judge automatically would have sentenced Eduardo Capote to prison if he was found guilty. The crime of violence designation also makes it harder for prisoners to get paroled, Feldmann said, and the prison sentence would have been longer.
“When you really sit down and figure out the true life impacts, it allows him to move on with his life,” Feldmann said. “Up to 16 years of real prison time (from the assault and crime of violence charges), that’s hard to recover from.”
Defendants often serve about half of their sentences before they are eligible for parole, and Feldmann said Eduardo Capote would be a good candidate for parole because he has a child and a wife, a job waiting for him and no prior convictions.
Reached by phone, District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham said she worked with Lopez’s family, with his sister Mary Ventura acting as a spokeswoman, before reaching the deal.
“I think we are relieved that it’s done and the family can move on,” Oldham said. “The family was really strong going through the trial, but obviously it was very traumatic.”
She said the DA’s office would not have gone ahead with the deal without approval from Lopez’s family.
Ventura said she approves of the manslaughter charge, even though she’s reluctant to see the lesser penalty.
“Being that he’s my brother, of course I’d like to see more time, but three years is not enough for a life,” she said. “Eduardo Capote … he’s responsible for my brother being dead.”
Ventura said a civil case is also “in the works,” though she did not want to elaborate.
Steamboat Springs Police Department Capt. Joel Rae said the department also was involved in the discussions and had talked to Ventura, but he did not want to comment more until the deal was finalized.
Eduardo Capote is scheduled to appear in court at 2:30 p.m. April 16 to enter his plea, and sentencing likely will be scheduled for a later date.