Judge balks at approving plea deal in murder case
BRECKENRIDGE – For the third time, a District Court judge has refused to accept a plea agreement that would provide testimony against two suspects in a Breckenridge murder case for fear that a third suspect would get off too lightly.
Michael Scott Dietert, 22, appeared in court in Breckenridge Friday expecting Judge David Lass to approve Dietert pleading guilty to third-degree assault and manslaughter.
Dietert stands accused in the death of 36-year-old Cody Wieland, who died nine days after a bloody assault on Breckenridge’s Main Street on Halloween night, 2002. Prosecutors also charged Brandon Robbins, 22, and Brian Stockdale, 21, in the death; the pair face second-degree murder charges.
Twice before, the district attorney’s office and Dietert’s attorney presented a deal to district judges. Chief Judge Terry Ruckriegle and Judge David Lass both sent the lawyers back to negotiating, saying they would not accept a plea agreement that stipulated Dietert would serve no prison time.
Dietert, who told the Summit Daily News last month that he recognized the other two suspects “from around town” but did not know them as friends, has indicated he is willing to testify against Robbins and Stockdale. Daniel Recht, Dietert’s attorney, has said he intends to make sure Dietert does not go to state prison, where those who testify against fellow suspects are not warmly welcomed.
The third deal presented to Judge Lass Friday would leave Dietert open to an 18-month maximum county jail sentence on the misdemeanor assault charge and a deferred judgment on the manslaughter felony. A deferred judgment, for four years in this case, means that if Dietert stays out of trouble, the felony is wiped from his record. Dietert could receive, at most, 90 days as part of the deferred judgment.
“If it turns out that this defendant was a substantial participant in a crime that caused the death of an individual, two years and 90 days is probably not an appropriate sentence,” Lass told the attorneys Friday.
Recht argued that police and medical reports, as well as the initial testimony in preliminary hearings of the other suspects, show that Dietert’s actions were not the cause of Wieland’s death.
Lass said he would need to hear the facts of the case himself.
“Given the serious nature of the offense, if I need to make a decision now, I simply am not inclined to do that until I hear – I hear – the evidence in this case,” Lass said. “I’m trying to remain open-minded, but it’s a serious matter.”
The attorneys will compile briefs and arguments to further sway Lass at a Jan. 9 hearing in Leadville. Recht said he will provide Lass with reports and testimony to show that it was blows to the head that killed Wieland and that Dietert never touched his head.
Dietert’s testimony will be important if prosecutors are to convict Robbins and Stockdale. None of the suspects can be compelled to testify against the others, because any statements they made could be used against them. Assistant District Attorney Rachel Fresquez said that, even without Dietert’s testimony, cases against Robbins and Stockdale will proceed with physical evidence and other eyewitness accounts.
Trials for Robbins and Stockdale are scheduled for January and February.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or email@example.com.
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