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Today, an Arapahoe County jury convicted Marcus Johnson, 34, of second-degree murder for shooting former University of Colorado (CU) football player Anthony “TJ” Cunningham to death.
On February 17, 2019, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a passerby about a man bleeding in a parking lot at Eaglecrest High School. Upon arrival, deputies discovered Cunningham had been shot. He was transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries and passed away the following day.
At the time deputies were responding to the scene at Eaglecrest High School, dispatchers received another call from Marcus Johnson. He stated he just shot Cunningham, who he claimed attacked him earlier in the day. Further investigation revealed Johnson and Cunningham were neighbors and the two had an ongoing dispute over a parking spot on a public street between their houses.
Prior to the shooting, the two taunted each other in the street before eventually agreeing to resolve the parking dispute in a parking lot at Eaglecrest High School. At the meeting location, Cunningham was shot twice in the head and chest.
“This defendant arranged a fight and showed up to the Eaglecrest High School parking lot with a gun,” Chief Deputy DA Andrew Steers said. “This was not a case of self-defense. Johnson made the choice to end a petty dispute with violence.”
Around 1:30 p.m. Thursday, a jury returned a guilty second-degree murder verdict. Johnson will remain in custody until sentencing.
“A life was taken over a minor neighborhood parking issue,” District Attorney John Kellner said. “This defendant tried to portray himself as a victim, but there’s no way to justify why a man had to lose his life over a parking spot disagreement.”
Johnson was sentenced Dec. 2 to 45 years in prison.
Jury convicts man who fired at Jeep and hit protesters on Interstate-225 in Aurora
An Arapahoe County jury convicted Samuel Young, 24, of seven felony charges on Thursday, for the shooting on I-
225 where he fired at a blue Jeep driving past the protest crowd and wounded two bystanders on the side of the roadway.
On July 25, 2020, after a protest demonstration at the Aurora Municipal Center, a crowd of protesters marched onto Alameda Avenue and then Interstate 225. The crowd eventually took over all lanes of traffic on both sides of the interstate and continued marching northbound. Despite attempts to block traffic at several intersections, some motorists still approached the area of the protest crowd which was not authorized to be on the interstate. After the driver of a blue Jeep drove onto the interstate and was intentionally hit by a truck associated with the protest group, he continued driving northbound as some pedestrians threw objects at the Jeep driving in the middle lanes of traffic. Samuel Young stepped from the shoulder of the interstate and fired 5 shots at the Jeep as it tried to drive past the crowd. Two shots hit the back of the Jeep after it drove by the Defendant, and two shots struck and wounded bystanders on the opposite side of the interstate. One victim was struck in the thigh and one victim was hit on the side of the head. The driver and passenger of the blue Jeep were not injured. There were no reports that anyone was injured by the Jeep and it did not exceed the speed limit.
Investigators identified the Defendant, Samuel Young, based on witnesses and pictures from the protest. He admitted he was the suspected shooter after media bulletins were publicized the next day. Investigators collected video footage and pictures from a news helicopter, cell phone cameras, social media sites, stationary traffic cameras, and a drone camera operated by a witness in the protest crowd. The Aurora Police Department and District Attorney’s Office investigated the incident, collecting witness statements, ballistics evidence, and electronic data from the vehicles involved.
Mr. Young pleaded not guilty to all charges and proceeded to jury trial on March 22, 2022. The jury deliberated and returned verdicts on March 31, 2022, finding him guilty of seven counts, including four counts of Attempted Reckless Manslaughter, two counts of Second Degree Assault (heat of passion), and one count of Illegal Discharge of a Firearm.
“This was an irresponsible and reckless decision that put countless lives in danger” District Attorney John Kellner said. “The Defendant brought a handgun to a protest taking over a major interstate and it’s fortunate that no one was killed by his violent conduct that day.”
Assistant District Attorney Tom Byrnes handled the case with Deputy District Attorney Mike Mauro. Byrnes told the jury “the Defendant’s decision to shoot at the Jeep was intentional and it was reckless to fire his gun 5 times in the direction of the crowd. Those decisions were not justified by any reasonable or legitimate claim that he was defending others.”
A sentencing hearing is set for May 17, 2022. Young faces up to 3 years in prison on each of the Attempted Manslaughter charges and the Illegal Discharge conviction, and up to 4 years for the Second Degree Assault convictions.
The Honorable District Court Judge Ben Leutwyler presided over the jury trial.
A Littleton man who sexually assaulted children he was babysitting has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Arapahoe District Court Judge Elizabeth Ann Weishaupl sentenced Corey Austin Medo, 23, on May 7. Medo pleaded guilty March 12 to one count of Sexual Exploitation of a Child, a Class 3 felony. Other counts were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
“A person who preys on children entrusted to his care deserves to go to prison,” said District Attorney John Kellner. “Here we have parents trying to do the right thing, screening the person they choose to watch their children. And he takes advantage of his position of trust and molests those youngsters. My office will always pursue these cases aggressively.”
On Nov. 30, 2019, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation after a Centennial mother reported that her babysitter had sexually assaulted her child.
The investigation revealed the assaults had taken place since March 2018, when the mother had hired Medo after finding him on a babysitting website.
Several families had hired Medo, and he was also a youth basketball coach. Investigators believe he targeted boys between the ages of 7 and 10.
The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Jacob Kremin.
“Nothing can replace the innocence the defendant stole from the child he was trusted to protect,” Kremin said. “However, this resolution will ensure that he is locked away while the family begins the healing process, and that upon his release, he will be prohibited from having contact with any other child.”
Upon his release from prison, Medo must register as a sex offender.
A former teacher and coach was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting one of his students.
Arapahoe District Court Judge John Scipione sentenced Craig Debiase, 57, on Oct. 16. He pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a child, a Class 3 felony; other counts were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Debiase is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for abusing another student at Bishop Machebeuf High School. The new sentence will run consecutive to the previous sentence.
“Another predator at a local school uses his position of trust and — disgustingly — his religious faith to manipulate and victimize another student. The undeniable courage of the victim in this case to come forward and face the adult who treated her like a body to be exploited made all the difference here,” said District Attorney George Brauchler. “I hope it inspires others to come forward who were victimized in their youth. There must be consequences for this selfish, destructive conduct. Our system can only sentence him to prison. The Almighty likely has many other resources.”
The victim was 17 years old when Debiase began a sexual relationship with her in 1997. She came forward in November 2019 to report the crime after she saw news reports of Debiase being sentenced for similar sex crimes against another juvenile victim.
“I was 17 when a likeable, charismatic and charming pedophile manipulated me, seduced me and rendered me silent. He was the baseball coach at my high school. His name is Craig Debiase,” the victim told the court in her impact statement submitted prior to sentencing.
She described how Debiase gained her trust and her silence. He started seeing her at his house during Bible studies; he bought her clothes and jewelry and took her to movies and out to dinner. At one point he even gave her an engagement ring.
“I now understand this was his way of grooming me,” the 40-year-old woman told the judge. “I now see that relationship as manipulation and abuse at the hands of an adult who worked at my school. …
“I now believe that Craig came to my school to seek out young girls to manipulate and abuse for his own sick satisfaction. Coming to this realization all these years later has triggered feelings of shame, humiliation, terrible anxiety and self-loathing,” she told the court in her statement. “It took another courageous victim to come forward and say how he abused her for me to finally see how wrong that situation I was in all those years ago really was. I am so grateful that she did. Craig can’t manipulate me anymore. I fear that there are other young women that Craig chose to victimize, and I hope that if they hear about me, they find the courage to speak up.”
Accusations about Debiase and other underage victims surfaced in 2005. He entered into a plea agreement and ultimately served less than two years in prison at that time. He was a registered sex offender and had completed “sex offender intensive supervised probation” when he was sentenced again in 2019.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Danielle Jaramillo prosecuted both cases against Debiase in Arapahoe County.
“This defendant not only used his position as a school teacher and coach, but he also used religion as a way to gain access to his victims. Over a 20-year span, this man made a career of preying on the vulnerable. The number of victims we have identified so far is astounding, and the deeper we dig the more we find. Thankfully, he is no longer in a position to continue hurting children,” Jaramillo said. “Parents deserve to know that when they send their children to school, those children will be safe.”
A 22-year-old Denver man was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he fired a gun out his car window as deputies were investigating possible thefts from cars.
Douglas County District Court Judge Jeffrey Holmes sentenced convicted felon Manuelito Dewane Vigil to 10 years in the Department of Corrections for the top count, the maximum allowed under the plea agreement.
In choosing the aggravated range for the sentence, the court noted that Vigil was on a failed probation in a deferred judgment in a Weld County felony case and was on bond out of Arapahoe County when the crime took place.
“A repeat offender who was being supervised for a burglary conviction and already on bond for illegally possessing a firearm as a convicted felon finds a way yet again to get another firearm … and use it to shoot at our guardians. A system that fails to treat gun crimes seriously begets more gun crimes,” said District Attorney George Brauchler. “Mercifully, nobody was killed — this time. This reprobate will find it harder to shoot at the good guys from prison, but under our broken sentencing laws, he will only be in there for a handful of years.”
Vigil pleaded guilty to aggravated motor vehicle theft, possession of a weapon by a previous offender with a prior burglary conviction, vehicular eluding, first-degree auto trespass, violation of bail bond conditions, second-degree burglary and felony menacing. Other counts were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Sentences on all counts were ordered to run concurrent to the sentence on the top count.
The incident began Jan. 27, 2019, when Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies were notified of reports of a man driving a gray van trying to trespass into vehicles in Highlands Ranch. A responding deputy quickly located the suspect vehicle; it eluded the deputy.
Another deputy picked up the trail and reported shots had been fired from the van by the masked driver as it sped away.
Shell casings were found at the scene.
The gray van was determined to have been stolen. It was located in Commerce City on Jan. 30. Vigil was arrested at his home in Denver the next day. Seven firearms were found in his home, along with a ballistic vest and a mask. Deputies also recovered ammunition from the car and house that matched the shell casings found at the scene. Additionally, the car contained more than 200 pieces of stolen mail.
“We asked the judge to send a message that it is unacceptable to commit these crimes in Douglas County and to shoot at one of our deputies in order to get away. And the judge did just that – you do not get to come to Douglas County, terrorize our citizens, commit numerous offenses, carry and fire a weapon as a convicted felon, and get away with it,” said Deputy District Attorney Zoe Laird, who prosecuted the case. “The defendant is now in prison, where his own actions put him.”
Added Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Steve Johnson, who spoke at the Jan. 2 sentencing: “You don’t get to shoot your way out of property crimes in Douglas County.”
It took 17 years, but a woman drew on her inner strength and told a judge what her coach had done to her life when he chose to rape her when she was 14 years old.
“It is impossible to address the lifelong impacts that come from being abused and manipulated,” the 31-year-old woman told Arapahoe District Court Judge John Scipione. “This was a debilitating relationship, all about control and manipulation. I was 31 before I was able to accept that what he did to me was not love but was rape.”
The woman was a student at Bishop Machebeuf High School when teacher and basketball coach Craig Debiase took her under his wing. He was 38 years old. The sexual abuse lasted for three years.
The woman described the ways Debiase took advantage of her and preyed on her. She told the judge how he inserted himself between her and her family and friends. Even after their contact ended, the damage done to her emotionally continued, she said.
Accusations about Debiase and other underage victims surfaced in 2005. He entered into a plea agreement and ultimately served less than two years in prison. He is a registered sex offender and successfully completed “sex offender intensive supervised probation.” He is on lifetime unsupervised probation.
The 31-year-old woman denied any involvement with Debiase in 2005. By Oct. 25, 2019, she was ready to confront him.
“He preyed on us,” she told Judge Scipione. “He is a repeat sex offender and has never been appropriately punished for what he has done.”
Senior Deputy District Attorney Danielle Jaramillo asked Scipione to sentence Debiase to 12 years, the maximum allowed under the plea agreement. Debiase pleaded guilty to attempted sexual exploitation of a child, a Class 4 felony.
“When parents send kids to school, they feel like this is at least one place they don’t have to worry about, where their child will be safe,” Jaramillo said. “But this teacher is the monster parents worry about.”
Debiase abused girls at the school for 12 years, she told the judge. “There are eight victims we know of, and this action deserves this punishment.”
The judge was harsh in his condemnation of Debiase’s actions and sympathetic to what the woman had endured.
“I am sure your statement barely scratches the surface,” Scipione told the woman.
Debiase “got a gift back in 2005,” the judge said. “He sought therapy and you lived in your own private hell these 17 years.”
He added: “This is despicable – some of the worst cases are in the name of the church and perpetrated against children. The maximum sentence is a no-brainer for me.”
District Attorney George Brauchler noted that this case is an example of why there is no statute of limitations for such crimes against children.
“Predators seek out safe places to have access to their victims, including our children,” Brauchler said. “They try to hide their lascivious actions by counting on the shame and guilt of their hand-picked victims, leaving them to struggle for the rest of their lives after the gross betrayal of trust. Here, it was only the courage of the victim — even 17 years later — that brought this child sex offender to justice. I hope justice for this victim helps in her healing process and serves as a light for others who have experienced the trauma of sexual assault.”
An admitted gang member has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in a violent crime spree in Aurora.
Arapahoe County District Court Judge Andrew Baum sentenced Joshua Alonzo Cunningham, 20, of Aurora, after he pleaded guilty May 6 to one count of attempted first-degree murder in one case, and to aggravated robbery with a firearm in a second case. Other charges he faced were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
On Dec. 8, 2017, Cunningham fired at a victim from a vehicle in a drive-by shooting on East 14th Avenue in Aurora, where he and other gang members targeted an individual they believed to be a rival gang member.
On Feb. 12, 2018, Cunningham robbed an O’Reilly Auto Parts store on South Havana Street in Aurora with a handgun, where he threatened a clerk and forced her to give him money from a cash register.
In July 2018, 14 co-defendants who were involved in the crime spree were arrested and charged. Cases against other defendants are still pending.
The cases were investigated by the ATF, the FBI Safe-Streets Task Force, and the Aurora Police Department, focusing on a pattern of gang-related aggravated robberies, burglaries, and shootings throughout the Denver metro area by members and associates of the Park Hill Bloods criminal street gang. Several firearms were recovered during the investigation and forensic technology allowed investigators to match ballistic evidence from several crime scenes, along with cell-phone information that contributed to the identification and apprehension of those responsible for the shootings.
“It takes the combined efforts of our fantastic law enforcement partners at Aurora PD, FBI, and ATF to help protect us from the seeming surge in violent crime being perpetrated by younger members of our community,” said District Attorney George Brauchler. “Gang-related drive-by shootings are not limited to LA-based 1980s movies. They are here, and as long as there are those who engage in this extreme and lethal behavior, we will work to protect our community by removing them from it. This is why we build prisons.”
A Colorado Springs man was sentenced to 18 years in prison for driving drunk and high in a crash that killed his 4-year-old son.
Christopher Small, 31, pleaded guilty Oct. 9 to vehicular homicide DUI in the Feb. 20 one-vehicle crash that killed his son, Lucca.
Douglas County District Court Judge Shay Whittaker on Dec. 19 sentenced Small to 18 years in the Department of Corrections after hearing from Lucca’s mother and her family. The plea agreement called for a sentencing range of 12-20 years.
“To this court, what is most devastating is … he made a decision to consume alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car and consciously made a decision to alter previously set plans and go and pick up his children,” Whittaker said. “What is even more horrifying is that it could have been worse – he was on his way to pick up” his daughter.
“There are no words to capture the magnitude of this loss. A father’s selfish and reckless decision leads to the death of his innocent 4-year-old son,” said District Attorney George Brauchler. “Coloradans should know that he will be eligible to be paroled from prison in only 5-6 years, but he will likely never be paroled from the knowledge that he killed his sweet boy. Like Lucca’s death, those nightmares are forever.”
Small was working at his job in Limon on Feb. 20, 2018. He go off work early and arranged with his ex-wife to pick up his son and daughter from day care and school in Woodland Park.
Small later told investigators he had two shots of Fireball whisky in Limon. Evidence indicates he was drinking after that, as well.
He picked up Lucca in his 2012 Lexus RX350. For some reason he was on Colorado 67 in Douglas County when he lost control on a curve. Lucca, who was in a booster seat in the back, was killed.
Evidence indicated Small was driving 75 mph on the road with a 50 mph speed limit. The road was dry, and conditions were sunny just before 3:00 p.m. There was no indication that Small ever touched his brakes before the car went off the road.
A blood-alcohol test four hours after the crash came back at 0.098. A lab would have testified that Small was at minimum 0.19 at the time of the crash. The tests also showed 3.5 nanograms of THC.
“My baby did not die: He was killed,” Lucca’s mother, Ashley Whittemore, told the court in a victim impact statement during sentencing. Lucca “laid in the snow with a broken neck, a swollen brain and a stopped heart.”
Whittemore’s father, Mike Whittemore, spoke.
“This was not a tragic accident. This was reckless, narcissistic behavior,” he told the judge. “Lucca didn’t die in a horrible accident – he died at the hands of his father.
His wife, Lucca’s grandmother, Michelle Whittemore, echoed those thoughts.
Small’s “path of recklessness and carelessness led to the death of my grandson,” she said.
Deputy District Attorney Dan Warhola asked the judge for the maximum sentence. He noted that Small was arrested on a DUI charge in November while he was out on bond.
“A father is a provider and a protector. This defendant was the exact opposite of that on Feb. 20,” Warhola said in his sentencing argument. “Killing his own son wasn’t enough to stop him.”
Small’s prison sentence will be followed by five years of mandatory parole.
A former Airman stationed at Buckley Air Force base has been sentenced to four years in prison for accidentally shooting and killing his wife.
Arapahoe District Judge Phillip Douglass sentenced Brian Lebron-Rivera, 23, to four years in the Department of Corrections followed by three years of parole for the death of Genesis Rodriquez, 20. Lebron-Rivera had pleaded guilty to reckless manslaughter, a Class 4 felony, on Feb. 23.
“There is no indication this death was the result of anything other than a terrible and reckless accident. Anyone trained in using firearms knows you don’t point a gun at anyone,” Douglass told Lebron-Rivera. “It’s a huge responsibility to bear arms. … It’s important that when that right is abused, we address it.”
On Aug. 25, 2016, Lebron-Rivera called Arapahoe County Sheriff’s dispatchers to the Bristol Village Apartments at 17103 E Ohio Place. He said he had shot his wife and she was dead.
Arriving deputies found Rodriquez on the floor of the apartment with a gunshot wound to the head.
She was shot once, near her eye. She was pronounced dead at Medical Center of Aurora.
Lebron-Rivera told investigators he had been training his wife how to react if someone had a weapon. He was member of the security forces unit stationed at Buckley.
“He pointed a gun at his wife and pulled the trigger. This is a person trained in the use of firearms,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Gary Dawson said during sentencing. “This could have been prevented entirely simply by not pointing a gun at someone.”
District Attorney George Brauchler agreed it was a tragic case that called for incarceration.
“Being reckless with a football or baseball leads to a bruise or broken window. Being reckless with a gun leads to death and here, incarceration,” he said. “Whatever training the military provided was lost or ignored. On purpose or accident, guns kill. They are not toys.”