Public banned from Aspen hearing on suspected dog-killer | SummitDaily.com

Public banned from Aspen hearing on suspected dog-killer

Rick Carroll / Aspen Times

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A judge Wednesday held another closed hearing for the teenager accused in the January shooting death of a dog on private property near Carbondale.

“I certainly appreciate the public interest in this matter,” said Garfield County Judge Paul Metzger before ordering courtroom attendees not directly associated with the case to leave. “But I am going to find this (under a state statute) is in the (defendant’s) best interest to have the hearing closed today.”

Metzger’s comment came after a bench conference with prosecutor Tony Hershey, public defender Elise Myer and the defendant’s court-appointed guardian, and also was in response to The Aspen Times’ oral and written objection to a closed hearing.

Both Myer and the guardian asked for the hearing to be closed; the two were successful in their request to close the Feb. 28 hearing for the 13-year-old boy, as well.

Unless a juvenile is charged as an adult, Colorado law calls for the sealing of juvenile criminal records. Juvenile criminal proceedings, however, are open to the public unless the court deems it in the “best interest” of the juvenile to shield the hearing.

A statement to the court from The Aspen Times, the only media at the hearing, partly read: “Simply put, this case concerns public safety in the Roaring Fork Valley. A 13-year-old male is alleged to have stolen firearms from a local residence and used one of them to shoot and kill a yellow Labrador retriever on someone’s private property. The story has warranted media attention because of the alleged nature of this crime. The public deserves to hear about current and future developments in this case, as well as how the local criminal justice system processes a case such as this. To shield today’s hearing and future hearings from the media deprives the public the opportunity to better understand this case and its outcome.”

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Metzger said he would consider having an open court in future hearings for the defendant, who is due back in court April 11. The defendant’s first hearing on the matter, on Feb. 14, was open to the public.

“It is a difficult balancing test that the court has to consider here,” Metzger said. “But ultimately … I don’t feel completely comfortable discussing what is intended to be discussed at today’s hearing by the parties.”

The suspect, who is in the custody of the Grand Mesa Youth Services Center, a juvenile detention center in Grand Junction, appeared in court with his court-appointed guardian, as well as his mother.

Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies arrested him Jan. 24, the day of the alleged offenses. Charges against him include aggravated cruelty to animals, second-degree burglary of a dwelling, theft, possession of a handgun by a juvenile and third-degree criminal trespass. The cruelty to animals and burglary charges would be felonies were the defendant an adult.

The teenager stands accused of firing two shots at a yellow lab, which was on its family’s front porch of their 7 Oaks home. The second shot hit and killed the lab, whose family was not home at the time of the incident.

Two other separate cases against the juvenile are also pending; they are unrelated to the Jan. 24 incident.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com