District Attorney defends charges
Oldham: Decision in Lopez death based on legal definitions, burden of proof
Steamboat Springs — Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham said she’s confident she made the right decision by filing assault charges against Eduardo and David Capote.
The Miami brothers are charged with several counts of assault in connection with a January fight that led to the death of Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez in downtown Steamboat Springs. After Oldham announced the charges Monday, a couple of Steamboat Springs police officials and a member of Lopez’s family said they had hoped for more severe charges, such as manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
Oldham said Friday that based on legal definitions and what must be proven for each charge, she made the correct decision.
Lopez died Jan. 5 of severe brain and head trauma – allegedly after suffering a punch to the face from Eduardo Capote Jr. Police say the blow knocked Lopez to the ground, and a coroner ruled the fatal injury occurred when his head struck the pavement.
Lopez, 37, was stationed in North Carolina and vacationing in Steamboat at the time of the incident, which began as a verbal dispute in a local bar. The two groups left the bar separately, and a physical altercation took place at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue.
Eduardo Capote Jr. was charged with second-degree assault and two counts of third-degree assault. David Capote, his brother, was charged with third-degree assault in connection with the fight but is not accused of being directly involved with Lopez’s death.
To charge Eduardo Capote Jr. with manslaughter, Oldham said she would have had to prove that he was “reckless” and that he knew one punch would kill Lopez.
“It’s not should he have known, (it’s) would a reasonable person have known (that one punch would kill Lopez),” she said Friday. “I would have difficulties in this case proving what was in his mind before he did that.”
By going with the assault charge, Oldham said she instead must prove that he intended to cause bodily injury and did cause severe bodily injury.
Lopez’s sister, Mary Ventura, said earlier this week that she was upset with the charge of assault because it was not harsh enough.
“You can commit murder in Colorado and get away with it; it’s as simple as that,” she said.
Second-degree assault and manslaughter are Class 4 felonies. Oldham said the charge of assault can carry a sentence up to three times as long as a manslaughter charge.
Manslaughter can bring a term of two to six years in prison, she said, while second-degree assault can bring between five and 16 years.
“Almost everybody thinks manslaughter is a better charge. Somebody died. Manslaughter sounds correct,” she said. “It’s a legitimate question. I don’t have qualms with that. But when you look into the legal definition of what recklessness is, discomfort (with the assault charges) should be alleviated.”
Oldham said she has not found any other cases that match the exact circumstances of Lopez’s death. She said she spoke to district attorneys in other states, but the laws in the other states varied and were not always applicable to Colorado statutes.
She said she did not take the rate of conviction of assault cases versus manslaughter cases into account as she made her decision, instead basing the charge on the facts of the case after listening to audio interviews and reviewing transcripts and witness testimony.
The Capote brothers turned themselves in March 23 to Routt County authorities and were released on bail later that day. Their next court date is a deposition scheduled for May 20.
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