A judge Friday ruled that $300,000 in total cash-only bonds for a 17-year-old Aspen resident charged with multiple counts of sexual assault was proper because the defendant could face, if convicted, a minimum of 16 to 48 years in prison — and possibly a life sentence — increasing the danger that he could try to flee the area.
While the attorney for the teen argued that the bonds, $100,000 in three cases, are excessive and unconstitutional, a prosecutor told Judge Chris Seldin of Pitkin County District Court that the investigation into the 17-year-old has uncovered 10 victims. Keegan Callahan, 21, of Woody Creek faces similar charges involving fewer alleged victims. One victim reported to police that she was assaulted by the two of them together, and another victim said both the males were present when she was assaulted by one of them. Both were arrested in October.
The 17-year-old is being charged as an adult, but a hearing is set for May for the judge to decide if he should be remanded back to juvenile court. For that reason, the defendant has not been named, which is Aspen Daily News policy regarding those charged as juveniles.
He is charged with 14 felony counts of sexual assault, some of which include crime-of-violence factors that boost prison sentences upon conviction.
His attorney, M. Trent Trani of Denver, said in court Friday that the judge, when it comes to setting bond, must not consider the likelihood of whether his client will be found innocent or guilty, nor how likely is it he could flee the area. Under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, judges are prohibited from setting “a bond so high that it can’t be posted,” he said, adding that 99 percent of the public could not post $300,000 in bonds.
The excessive bail means his “presumption of innocence” is lost, Trani said, noting the teen has been in custody for nearly five months. Concerns about the safety of the community can be addressed by Judge Seldin setting conditions like monitored sobriety and the issuance of protection orders, which are mandatory in such cases. Without the chance to make bail, “you’re essentially punishing him … for something he has yet to be found guilty of,” he said.
At least one of his alleged victims, flanked by supporters, attended the hearing in which Trani sought a drastically reduced bond amount for all three cases of between $23,000 and $45,000.
Deputy district attorney Don Nottingham said the bond amounts Judge Seldin set when the arrest warrants were issued were proper. In one case alone, the 17-year-old faces six class II felonies involving crimes of violence and the mandatory minimums of 16 to 48 years. (The possible life sentence would involve indeterminate sentencing guidelines in Colorado that often make parole inherently difficult for people convicted of such crimes.)
“These are not run-of-the-mill class II felonies,” Nottingham said, adding the charges are so serious he could have requested the defendant be held without any bond amount.
Of the 10 alleged victims authorities have found, the DA’s office is not pursuing charges on six of them, he told the judge, citing various factors including the age of the allegations and his office’s decision that his time is better spent on the current cases.
But all have expressed fear of the defendant getting out of jail, and at least two have had an anxiety-related breakdown, he said.
And the 17-year-old’s criminal history shows a pattern of escalation, from indecent exposure to sexual assault without violence, and now culminating in his assaulting intoxicated young women and using restraints and strangulation, Nottingham said.
“That pattern of behavior is important,” he said.
Judge Seldin agreed, saying that courts routinely set bonds higher than the state’s scheduled amount for allegations. He said significant cash amounts are sometimes set for charges “that are not nearly as serious as those here.” Both the need to ensure he appears for court and the safety of the community are factors in his decision to leave the bonds unchanged.
The 17-year-old faces “very significant charges with very significant penalties,” potential punishment that could cause him to flee, Judge Seldin said.
Trani raised another issue regarding his client’s birthday on April 9, a date that means he will be transferred from a Grand Junction juvenile detention facility to the Pitkin County Jail. He said he doesn’t want his client incarcerated with Callahan and asked that the co-defendant, because he is older, be transferred to the Garfield County Jail.
The judge told him that he would need to give notice to Callahan’s attorney.