A scheduled preliminary hearing for an Aspen teen who faces 14 felony counts of sexual assault was canceled Wednesday morning in Pitkin County District Court amid the announcement of a plea offer from the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
The youth — who was 17 or younger at the time he committed the alleged crimes — was charged as an adult following his arrest last October. Though he recently turned 18, the Aspen Daily News has chosen not to name him pending the outcome of a hearing in which he is seeking to be charged as a juvenile. That hearing has been set for Aug. 1, but it won’t occur should the defendant reach an agreement with prosecutors before then.
Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham said the offer to the youth includes a 16-year state Department of Corrections sentence — with 10 of those years suspended — on a single count of second-degree assault, a Class 4 felony. Under the offer, the teen would be sent to the Youth Offender System facility in Pueblo, a maximum-security prison operated by the corrections department that houses male and female felony offenders, between the ages of 14 and 25, who have been convicted as adults regardless of their age.
The offer also includes a probation term of 20 years to life on a single count of sexual assault, a Class 3 felony. The probation sentence would start at the same time as the prison term. The teen would only be released from the Pueblo facility if he successfully completes his program there, which may involve sex-offender rehabilitation.
Should he violate the terms of his probation — while serving in the Youth Offender System program or after his release from it — he could be sentenced to an additional prison term of four years to 24 years, or possibly a life sentence, depending on various requirements set by the state, officials said in court.
District Judge Chris Seldin said the offer is open until July 15. The next hearing was set for June 12, a status conference by phone to address matters related to the defense’s subpoena of records related to one of the alleged victims in the case.
The youth’s attorney, M. Trent Trani of Denver, said he has not yet discussed the prosecution’s offer with his client. The offer was formally presented on Tuesday after weeks of talks with the DA’s office, Trani said.
Trani said his understanding of the Pueblo facility is that it’s a place where youth felons can receive rehabilitation in many different areas, offering them a chance at successful adult lives upon release.
Speaking generally, Trani said a plea agreement that involves the YOS program has to be tailored so that the charges for which the defendant is convicted correspond with the types of infractions that allow for acceptance into the program. In other words, as a matter of course, his client would gain acceptance to the Pueblo facility via the second-degree assault conviction, not the sexual-assault conviction.
“There are certain parameters that YOS requires so that a defendant could be eligible for that program. He wouldn’t be eligible under just any charge,” Trani said.
He said he told his client that he needed to waive Wednesday’s preliminary hearing in light of the offer.
“I just want to stress that my client hasn’t made any decisions,” Trani said. “I haven’t even talked to him as to whether he’s going to accept it. I spoke with him about what it is.
“The formal offer was just made yesterday. He is presumed to be innocent and the longer this case goes, the more I think that we have a viable defense.”
But Trani compared taking the case to trial to “a spin of a roulette wheel.” He said one good reason for accepting an offer is the high risk of putting a client’s fate in the hands of a jury.
“If I felt like he was guilty of everything he’s charged with, the more serious stuff, I would say it’s a really good offer. I’m just not sure if I believe the first part of that sentence.”
The teen is being held in the custody of the Pitkin County Jail under $300,000 bond. Authorities have said previously that the local investigation has uncovered as many as 10 sexual-assault victims.
Keegan Callahan, 21, of Woody Creek, faces similar charges involving fewer alleged victims. His bond has been set at $100,000. One victim reported to police that she was assaulted by the two of them together, while another said both males were present when she was assaulted by one of them.