Judge doesn’t endorse vigilantism
by Mark Reaman
A Crested Butte South man has accepted a plea agreement in an illegal marijuana grow case that stemmed from a sexual assault case filed last year.
Kendall Collins pleaded guilty on Monday to a charge of tampering with physical evidence, a class six felony, and accessory to obstruction of government operations, a misdemeanor.
As part of the plea agreement, Collins will be under supervised probation for four years, must perform 80 hours of community service and abstain from all alcohol, marijuana and illegal drugs, and must not violate any state, municipal, or federal law. He is also prohibited from having any contact with the alleged victim in the original sexual assault case. There will be no jail time for Collins.
The 44-year-old Collins was originally charged with drugging and sexually assaulting a local woman a year ago. District attorney Dan Hotsenpillar of the Seventh Judicial District requested that case be dismissed last month, stating the DA’s office could not “prove the charges in this case beyond a reasonable doubt.” He then filed the new charges.
The new charges centered on the fact that the victim of the sexual assault case informed police of a grow operation in Collins’ house. But deputy Gunnison County attorney Art Trezise told a mutual friend of his and Collins that a search warrant was being obtained on the Collins house. Collins and the friend, Rodney Teem, then pulled the marijuana plants, disposed of them and replanted vegetables in their place. Trezise is currently serving 90 days in jail for that action.
During Monday’s court appearance, Collins said he understood the ramifications of the plea agreement and understood if he abided by the terms, the felony charge would be dismissed after four years. If he did not abide by the agreement, he could face 18 months in prison for the felony charge.
Collins said he was accepting the plea agreement because it was “best for my family and to move on with my life.”
He and his family have moved out of the valley and his attorney said Collins has adjusted his life, is sober and is “focusing on his family to lead a better life.”
While the victim of the sexual assault case was in the courtroom, she chose not to speak. A friend of hers was allowed to address the court. Grantly Benton said he worked for Crested Butte Lodging as the assistant general manager, and Collins is a majority owner of the company.
“From the great injustice I witnessed at Kendall Collins’ last hearing I have absolutely no faith or trust in the DA or the justice system,” Benton said. “I am disgusted with the way the DA handled [the accuser’s] rape case.”
Benton said the DA’s decision to not pursue the case would have a serious impact on future victims. In very strong language, Benton told the court that evil was winning and the justice system was broken and a joke. He said if he was asked for advice in the future he would suggest victims “should make the wrong right again, and to deal with evil people in their own particular evil way.” He said people should “vote for corrupt and evil people to speed up the demise of our once great nation” and he suggested Collins should be reported to the Internal Revenue Service to pay taxes on money made from the illegal grow operation.
Gunnison district court judge Steven Patrick said the court had reviewed the proposed agreement along with relevant information from the prosecution. “I am inclined to take the agreement,” he said. “I would not agree that we resort to a vigilante system or encourage corruption. The system has a means to address the actions of the people and the district attorney’s office.”
Hotsenpillar said after Monday’s hearing, “The disposition is driven by the evidence, or lack of evidence, available to the prosecution involving the crimes alleged against Mr. Collins.”
In a press release on the matter, he wrote, “The District Attorney’s Office will continue to file difficult cases and work with law enforcement to develop any and all available evidence. That also means that the District Attorney must make difficult decisions regarding trial and disposition when available evidence is not sufficient to further prosecute a defendant. The District Attorney will continue to make these decisions without regard to whether the decisions are popular, but will make these decisions based on the rules of law and ethics.”
Collins began his four years of probation on Monday, May 11.