Replay of murder hearing sends two to trial
BRECKENRIDGE – It wasn’t any easier to hear for a second time the witness accounts of how three men beat Cody Wieland on a snow-caked sidewalk in Breckenridge last Halloween, and the surviving friends and family of the victim wept as they sat in the courtroom Thursday.
Brandon Robbins and Brian Stockdale, Breckenridge men just old enough to drink, appeared in Summit County Court Thursday morning for a preliminary hearing in which Judge Edward Casias agreed there was enough evidence to proceed with a trial against them.
Robbins and Stockdale are both charged with first-degree assault and second-degree murder in Wieland’s death. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert hopes to prove Robbins, Stockdale and a third defendant, Michael Scott Dieter,t dealt the kicks, punches and bashing that erupted from an alcohol-fueled argument and that left Wieland broken and bloody on Main Street in the early hours of Nov. 1. The charges were changed from assault to murder when, comatose, Wieland died nine days later.
The testimony Thursday was much the same as it was Jan. 24, when Robbins and Stockdale first appeared for a preliminary hearing. The key microphone in those proceedings was turned off, however, and the hearing had to be repeated for the record.
Providing a glimpse of the evidence that will be presented at trial, Hurlbert put a witness to the altercation on the stand, as well as the Breckenridge Police Department detective who interviewed the witnesses and suspects. Dr. Ben Galloway, a forensic medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Wieland, did not testify in the January hearing but did take the stand Thursday.
Loren Mendenhall, a Silverthorne resident and Search and Rescue volunteer, told the court audience he and friends had visited two bars before heading to the former eatery Mambo’s, on the 200 block of South Main Street on Halloween night. It was when he was swilling ice water at the bar and waiting for the three girls with him to get food, that he first noticed a man in military camouflage with a husky puppy. Then, Mendenhall said, when he and the ladies climbed the stairs from the basement business, he saw the man in camo and two other men engaged in a heated conflict with another man, the victim, held back by a Mambo’s bartender. The three men later named as suspects were yelling expletives at Wieland, calling him a “faggot,” Mendenhall said.
But the argument cooled off, and the parties separated. Mendenhall and his companions headed south, following Wieland, leaving the three suspects behind. Moments later, Mendenhall said, the blur of a man in a white jumpsuit brushed past him and ended up in a tangle on the sidewalk with Wieland. The other two suspects followed quickly after, Mendenhall testified. And while the man he identified as dressed in a white shirt and khaki pants pinned Wieland, the man in camo and the man in the white jumpsuit kicked and punched. The man in camo used a metal helmet to Wieland about the shoulders, Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall never could pick Stockdale or Robbins out of a photo lineup, though. And Harvey Steinberg, the attorney defending Brandon Robbins, pressed hard to shake Mendenhall, asking how many beers he and the women had consumed that night. The defense attorneys paid special attention to the testimony, too, comparing it to Mendenhall’s statements in January.
Sgt. Susan Quesada provided the identifying testimony. Quesada interviewed the witnesses and suspects, the latter who she said admitted to being involved in the fracas. Two of the witnesses identified Robbins and Stockdale in multiple-photo lineups prepared by the police.
The most painful testimony for Wieland’s friends and family, though, came from Galloway. The expert witness described the bruises on Wieland’s scalp, the fractured skull and the hemorrhaging within the 36-year-old’s brain, and the flap of bone surgeons removed in an attempt to save the swelling organ.
The defense attorneys maneuvered, hoping Galloway would say the injuries on one side alone of Wieland’s head were enough to kill him, which, given Mendenhall’s testimony about who was doing the kicking and punching on which side, might shift culpability. Galloway was no help, though, and said the cause of death was the profusion of blunt force trauma.
Based on the testimony, Casias found enough cause to try Robbins and Stockdale on the assault and murder charges (as well as a misdemeanor tampering with evidence charge for Robbins over the missing helmet he allegedly used) and ordered the case move on to District Court.
The crowd gathered again later that afternoon before District Judge David Lass. The defense attorneys urged Lass to lift electronic monitoring requirements on Stockdale and Robbins, who paid $65,000 and $75,000 bonds, respectively, to be released from jail.
“I would ask for justice before generosity,” said Jocelan Martell, the victim’s mother, in response to the motions. Lass agreed and let the conditions stand.
For Stockdale, who entered pleas of not guilty to both charges, the judge set a motions hearing date of Oct. 8. Stockdale’s trial is set to begin Jan. 20 next year.
Robbins did not enter any pleas and is scheduled to appear for a motions hearing Nov. 7, with trail to begin Feb. 9.
The third defendant, Dietert, appeared in court Monday, when District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle refused to accept a plea agreement arranged by Dietert’s attorney and the district attorney. The lawyers hoped Ruckriegle would concede to giving Dietert a probation sentence only, in exchange for testifying against Robbins and Stockdale. Ruckriegle said he would not agree to helping Dietert avoid prison before the trials were concluded. Dietert heads back to county court for his preliminary hearing Sept. 9.
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