Homeless man who traveled with a minor faces felony

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
An Aspen judge on Monday lowered the bond of a homeless man charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor after a member of the valley’s sober community said he would give the defendant a place to stay.

Russell Nelson, 23, faces the felony count, as well as a misdemeanor charge of harboring a juvenile, for allegedly traveling to Aspen with a 17-year-old girl from the Denver area. The girl called her father from the day center operated by the Aspen Homeless Shelter near the hospital on Thursday, and Nelson was arrested there after a staff member told police that Nelson and the teen were there.

The father told police that Nelson had sent messages to another member of the girl’s family indicating he was “worried about being charged with kidnapping,” the arrest affidavit says.

Nelson allegedly told Aspen police officer Andrew Atkinson that he knew the girl’s age and that the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office was looking for her because she had been reported as a runaway.

“I asked Nelson why he sent messages wondering if he would be arrested for kidnapping, and he said that [he and the girl] had been ‘curious whether or not it was considered kidnapping,’” Atkinson wrote in the affidavit.

The teen allegedly had a pipe on her person and told police that Nelson had given her marijuana, leading to the felony charge.

He was held in jail on $5,000 bond. In court Monday, his attorney, public defender Molly Owens, asked Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court for a public recognizance bond, which would have allowed Nelson to be freed from jail on his promise to return for future court dates.

He now has a safe place to stay and is working for a temporary employment agency, Owens said.

“I don’t doubt that he will make it to court” when he needs to, she said.

Deputy District Attorney Scott Turner opposed such a bond, saying his main concern is that Nelson in May pleaded guilty to a felony in Minnesota for passing bad checks. He also cited Nelson’s lack of ties to the community.

A valley man told Nichols that he is part of the local recovering community and will provide a place for Nelson to stay.

“I’m willing to have faith and hope that this is the final straw,” he said.

Nichols said Nelson has a “very extensive” criminal record tied to drug and alcohol abuse. Saying she was conflicted because she wants him to remain sober, Nichols set his bond at $1,000 and told him that he is fortunate that someone is looking out for him.

Nelson’s next court date is Sept. 15.

In other court news, the Aspen woman who allegedly stole hundreds of dollars from the Snowmass Village Police Department, where she had worked, made her first court appearance.

Marshana Cooley, 43, was represented by Glenwood Springs attorney Greg Greer, who waived formal advisement of a felony computer crime charge and misdemeanor theft.

She was arrested Aug. 8 after another department employee noticed inconsistencies with how Cooley had been recording the payments of parking tickets.

Cooley allegedly voided or “adjusted” hundreds of tickets, and the police department had no way of knowing how much money, if any, was collected for the fines.

Authorities believe she stole at least $1,219. Cooley is next due in court Sept. 15.