Gregory Scott Gavin was sentenced to 12 years in prison Thursday for the brutal murder of local forest-dweller Karl Kohler at his Peak 9 campsite in May.
Gavin struck a plea deal with the district attorney's office agreeing to make a statement revealing the details of the crime in exchange for a reduced charge and a maximum sentence of a dozen years in prison.
The 50-year-old local, who also made his home in the forest prior to his arrest, was quiet and subdued in court Thursday, taking a moment to control his emotions before making a short, remorseful statement.
"I didn't want this to happen," Gavin said. "I want to say to the Kohler family and his friends, I'm sorry for what I've done."
He pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder, heat of passion in September, after admitting to beating Kohler to death with a baseball bat when he arrived at Gavin's campsite unannounced in the early hours of the morning.
There had reportedly been a history of hostility between Gavin and Kohler. Witnesses reported altercations between the two, and Kohler threatening to kill Gavin on at least one occasion prior to his death, public defender Dale McPhetres said in court Thursday.
But Kohler's parents, brothers and friends said they didn't believe Kohler had been the aggressor and some railed against a sentence they said was too light for the crime.
"It is in the most importance sense, there can be no justice for Karl because nothing the court or the defendant does can make Karl or those who loved him whole," Kohler's brother Ralph stated in a letter to the court read by District Attorney Mark Hurlbert. "When I thought Karl's death was the result of an argument that got out of hand, I thought that while 12 years of a person's life was a significant price, it seemed like a price that was in no way fair to Karl."
Some members of Kohler's family hurled accusations at prosecutors, implying the plea deal and maximum 12-year sentence were related to the state's reluctance to spend money prosecuting the murder of a homeless man.
"I feel 12 years is little to pay for committing first-degree murder," Kohler's brother Troy LaBerge told the court. "It does not matter where Karl lived or what his social status was."
But Hurlbert said the plea deal was necessary to getting the real story about what happened between Gavin and Kohler the night of Kohler's death. Little was known about the incident before Gavin made a full statement to Summit County law enforcement as part of the deal.
"In a plea bargain you have to give something to get something," Hurlbert said. "What we were looking for was the truth. That's why we made the plea bargain. It had nothing to do with saving the state money. We were prepared to go to trial. It had absolutely nothing to do with Karl's status as a transient."
Gavin's statement has not been released to the public.
Statements made in court indicated the crime may have occurred after an argument between the two men over money escalated.
Volunteers participating in town Clean Up Day discovered Kohler's body near the Burro Trail Trailhead in May at what was later determined to be Gavin's campsite. Gavin was arrested a few weeks later.
His sentence will include five years probation in addition to the prison sentence.
Kohler, 45, had lived in Summit County for approximately 10 years, making his permanent home in the woods. Friends remembered him as intelligent and artistic, but said he had lived a hard life.