Ruling on Aspen carbon monoxide deaths expected today
June 12, 2011
ASPEN – A district judge is expected to rule today on whether felony negligent-homicide charges will be upheld against a sub-contractor and former building inspector in connection to the carbon-monoxide poisoning deaths of a Denver family of four in November 2008.Friday was the deadline for Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin to respond to motions from defense attorneys for Marlin Brown, 57, of Glenwood Springs, and Erik Peltonen, 69, of Basalt. In July 2010, a Pitkin County grand jury, after a series of private court sessions over the period of one year, indicted Brown and Peltonen on four, separate negligent-homicide charges. Details of what led to the counts, in addition to the alleged roles Brown and Peltonen had in the fatalities, have been kept under seal in court records, which the defense team obtained earlier this year. “We have tens of thousands of documents that my office isn’t even through cataloging,” said Brown’s attorney, Colleen Scissors of Grand Junction, on Friday. Brown is the owner of Glenwood Springs-based Roaring Fork Plumbing & Heating, which performed work on the house at 10 Popcorn Lane, where the family died.Both Scissors and Denver attorney Abraham Hutt, who represents Peltonen, a former city of Aspen building inspector who worked on the county’s behalf when the house was subject to government inspection, have filed motions to dismiss the charges based on prosecutorial misconduct and a lack of probable cause. The motions are sealed but, Mordkin said, “They are based on whether or not the grand jury was presented sufficient evidence to establish probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and probable cause to believe that the persons who were indicted were the persons who committed the crimes.”Relatives of the victims have expressed frustration in the sluggish pace of the criminal case. Nearly one year after the indictments were handed down, neither Brown nor Peltonen, whose defense is being funded, in part, by the city of Aspen and Pitkin County, has entered a plea. Instead, the case has been slowed by legal wrangling over access to court documents related to the grand-proceedings, and other motions.In April, Denver attorney William Hansen, who represents the family’s survivors in a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Denver, wrote a letter to Pitkin County District Court urging it to “move the case along” and objecting “to any further delays, extensions or continuances …” “Consternation by the family over the progress of the criminal proceedings has mounted as the criminal defendants have repeatedly filed motions and sought extensions in the criminal case such that, over eight months after the indictments were issued, they have not yet even been arraigned,” wrote Hansen at the time. “These delays are being partially funded by the taxpayers of Aspen and Pitkin County, which have agreed to pay for defense of the building inspectors, despite knowledge of the seriousness of the charges filed.”At the April hearing during which Hansen’s letter was made public, Judge James Boyd, who is presiding over the case, said he would make an oral ruling at this Monday’s hearing on whether the case can proceed.”I would like to keep the case moving along,” Boyd said at the time, adding that once he rules on the motions, “unless the case is dismissed,” both defendants would be arraigned. Scissors said she, too, is ready for the case to gain traction.”These are two really, really serious charges that are being brought against two people who have led law-abiding lives and never been in trouble with the law,” she said. “At the very least they’re entitled to litigate this case carefully and completely.”I’m sorry if that takes a while, but I know the judge’s task is big and our task is formidable. … I certainly have empathy for the family and for their loss but this [the criminal proceedings] is a whole different matter.”Said Mordkin: “I think this has gone slower than we would have hoped or anticipated.”The charges were a result of the fatalities of Caroline Lofgren, 42; her husband, Parker, 39; and their two children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8. They had won a stay at the home, which did not have a carbon-monoxide detector at the time of their deaths, at an auction held at their school in Denver.Their relatives have regularly attended the hearings in Pitkin County District Court, flying in from as far away as New York and Oregon. Aspen building inspector Brian Pawl, who was originally indicted on four misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment connected to the deaths, no longer is involved in the criminal case after Mordkin dropped the charges earlier this year because the statute of limitations on the misdemeanor counts had expired at the time the indictments were issued. Peltonen also faced the same, lesser charges, which Mordkin dropped for the same reason.