Commissioners decide against involvement in estate dispute

Long-time local woman seeking further investigation of her sister’s death 

By Katherine Nettles

Gunnison County resident Betty Barkman and her husband Jerry Heal approached the Gunnison County commissioners in late February asking them for support in getting a case regarding her deceased sister’s estate investigated by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Barkman spoke to commissioners during the public comment portion of their February 20 meeting, giving them each a copy of a 25-page report she had compiled describing the circumstances surrounding her sister Rebecca (Becky) Jo Barkman’s death in 2021. 

Barkman returned to the commissioners’ meeting on March 5 to ask if they had decided whether to help her, and they responded that they were not qualified nor comfortable taking on such a role. The commissioners informed Barkman they would not be getting involved and advised her that if she did not like the outcome of her previous civil case, she should appeal to the court system.

Barkman’s report, which she also provided to the Crested Butte News, detailed the events leading up to her sister’s death from Barkman’s perspective. These events included Rebecca’s possible cognitive decline as she succumbed to a terminal illness, and her marriage to Jesus Lopez Rodriguez about a month before she died. Rebecca granted Rodriguez power of attorney and rights to her estate as well, which Barkman protested in a petition for adjudication of intestacy in 2021 in Gunnison District Court.

The court ruled in denial of Barkman’s claims that Rebecca lacked the capacity to execute her will or to marry Rodriguez. District court judge D. Cory Jackson stated in the court order, filed in June 2023, that there was extensive evidence indicating Rebecca and Rodriguez had a valid relationship, intended to marry, married legally and that her will represented her wishes.

Allegations against the county attorney’s office that it did not appropriately aid in initial requests for more information related to the case and was therefore colluding with Rodriguez were also dismissed by the state bar association. 

Barkman alleged that Rodriguez married her sister under suspicious circumstances, to take advantage of her incapacitated state and gain rights to her property; that the Gunnison County clerk’s office and county attorney’s office acted inappropriately and covered up their actions; and that the sheriff’s department and justice system had failed her. 

Commissioner Jonathan Houck said he had reviewed her correspondence and sympathized with her loss and dissatisfaction with the court’s rulings. He said he felt discomfort in putting commissioners in a position to ask the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to get involved. “Our scope and the work that we do as a board, this is outside of that scope,” he said, repeating that this sort of case is not the work of the commissioners, but the work of the justice system. “If you are not happy with the court’s decision regarding your case, you can go through the appeals process,” he said. 

Commissioner Liz Smith agreed. “It’s difficult for me to see how this is the scope of what we should be doing,” she said. Commissioner Laura Puckett Daniels deferred to the rest of the board, because she said she had not been able to fully review the report and did not feel qualified to take a position on it.

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