Opening statements reveal diverging narratives in Sattler retrial
“Ladies and gentlemen, this morning, I’m going to tell you a story,” deputy district attorney Rusty Prindle addressed the jury on Friday morning. “It’s going to be a short story with a very tragic ending.”
He set the stage, with the time, the night of April 13, 2014, and the setting, Frisco’s Snowshoe Motel, Rooms 46 and 47. The characters include Charles Lee Sattler, who is charged with first-degree assault and manslaughter, following the death of Incline Bar and Grill chef Blake Bostic.
Friday was Sattler’s second appearance in court, after a mistrial due to a hung jury in June. The Summit County District Court granted a motion to drop a second-degree murder charge in August.
Prindle began his story with a couple from Denver, who drove up to Frisco for a ski trip. After a birthday celebration that evening, the two returned to their room at 8 p.m., just next to room 46, that Sattler and his friend, Charles Upchurch, had booked for the night.
Planning to return to Denver for work the next day, Sattler and Upchurch were snowed in after a large spring storm passed through. The two went to Ollie’s Pub and Grub, just across the street, for a few drinks, where they met Bostic and his friend Ryan Stevens at the bar.
It was last call, and the four went back to Sattler’s and Upchurch’s room to continue drinking and to smoke marijuana. Around 2 a.m., the neighboring couple heard a commotion.
“They were concerned. They looked out of their door, and looked out of their window,” Prindle said, noting that they called 911 shortly after. “I’m not gonna tell you what they saw. I’m gonna let them tell you.”
Moments later, Frisco police sergeant Russ Arnold arrived at the scene. He saw Bostic lying on the ground, and attempted to resuscitate him until medics arrived. Still unconscious, Bostic was transported to Summit Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 3:30 a.m., April 14, 2014.
“I left this screen blank for a reason,” Prindle gestured to an empty slide on the screen. “There’s one person you’re not going to hear from. You’re not gonna hear from Blake Bostic. He died a sudden and tragic death at the hands of Mr. Sattler.”
He highlighted a statement Sattler made in an interview with police: “usually if I hit you, something breaks.”
“Those were Mr. Sattler’s own words,” Prindle said. “It’ll be up to you as jurors to decide what he meant when he said that.”
CRIMINAL OFFENSE OR JUSTIFIED DEFENSE?
In her opening statement, public defender Stacy Shobe argued Sattler’s actions were justified in the defense of his friend, Upchurch.
As in the last trial, segments of jail phone calls with Sattler’s friends and family will be introduced. Shobe argued that these calls were misleading when compared with the defense’s story.
“Sattler has had hundreds of conversations with his children, family and friends in the 529 days leading to this trial,” Shobe said. “Don’t allow those statements to be contorted.”
On the night of April 13, Shobe said the four men were getting along well after they returned from the bar, and Sattler had bought a jar of Bostic’s habanero hot sauce. But when Upchurch made a snide remark about the sauce, “Mr. Bostic’s demeanor changed.”
According to the defense’s story, Bostic and Stevens refused to leave the room, after several requests from Upchurch, prompting Bostic to attack him. Shobe said that Sattler was alarmed, seeing his friend who is much shorter than Bostic’s 6-foot 9-inch frame being punched in the face. She pulled aside two small boards to demonstrate the height difference.
“…with every punch, Mr. Sattler saw his friend’s head bounce back and back and back like a PEZ dispenser,” she said, referring to a previous statement Sattler made in a recorded conversation. “Sattler made a split-second decision to protect his friend.”
After fighting Bostic, Shobe said that Sattler returned to his room and locked the door. The two neighbors, she said, saw the end of the confrontation with Bostic being punched in the face twice, but nothing leading up to it.
She added that an emergency physician’s testimony showed hemorrhaging to Bostic’s right hand, indicating his involvement in a fight. Upchurch was later admitted with a concussion and cuts to his face.
“Mr. Sattler used a degree of force he thought necessary and appropriate given the circumstances… punch for punch,” Shobe said. “He had no reason to think anybody would die as a result.”
THE BURDEN OF PROOF
“The prosecution has a weighty burden in this case,” Shobe continued. She noted that the prosecution would have to prove every element of first-degree assault, and disprove that Sattler acted in defense of Upchurch.
Under Colorado criminal law, the charge of manslaughter is designated a class-four felony, with the element of reckless conduct causing the death of another person.
First-degree assault is a class-three felony, unless committed in the heat of passion, in which case the charge is reduced to a class-five felony. Elements of this charge are engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another person, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.
“What would have been extreme indifference in this case is to let a man one foot taller and 55 pounds heavier beat on his friend,” Shobe said. “There is not a single person here today who does not wish that Blake Bostic were still alive. This process is about preventing a second tragedy.”
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