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Deal struck in Hermosa death case

Judge must decide if he’ll accept plea agreement

A Hermosa man suspected of shooting and killing his close friend faces up to three years in prison after signing a plea agreement Friday with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Justin Wiese, 37, was charged with second-degree murder – which carries a possible penalty of 16 to 48 years in prison – but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of criminally negligent homicide.

District Judge Jeffrey Wilson will decide whether to accept the plea agreement April 3. Wilson can sentence Wiese to anything from probation to three years in prison for criminally negligent homicide.

District Attorney Todd Risberg said he couldn’t discuss specifics of the case before sentencing, but he said the difference among manslaughter, negligent homicide and reckless killing is a person’s state of mind.

“We have to consider the strength of the evidence,” he said. “We have to figure out what we can prove. In some cases, there are no witnesses.”

Wiese is suspected of shooting and killing Darrick Zuber, 42, for unknown reasons late April 19, 2011, or early April 20, 2011, at Wiese’s home in the 100 block of Hermosa Circle, about 10 miles north of Durango.

The fatal gunshot entered the back of Zuber’s left shoulder at an angle impossible to have been self-inflicted, according to a medical examiner.

Zuber was found lying facedown in the kitchen and dining area. He wore only a T-shirt and socks. His underwear was off and lying near his feet. Wiese called 911 to report his friend had committed suicide.

“Um, I think my buddy just committed ... suicide,” he told the dispatcher. He then made what sounded like a short, nervous laugh, according to an arrest affidavit. “I just woke up and my buddy is ... he’s on the floor, he’s blue, and I found my guns on the floor.”

shane@durangoherald.com