Protesters swarmed the 1100 block of East Second Avenue on Friday, and while most were on the west sidewalk for a town hall meeting to discuss the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, some were outside the La Plata County Courthouse with signs that read “Justice 4 Sam.”
Among them was Jeanette Phillips, mother of Samuel Xarius Gordon, a Fort Lewis College student who was shot and killed during a home-invasion robbery that occurred May 24, 2016, at 253 Jenkins Ranch Road in the SkyRidge subdivision east of downtown.
She was awaiting a 3:30 p.m. hearing in which the fourth defendant, Kodi “Maz” E. Kuauhtli, would plead guilty for his involvement in the home invasion that preceded her son’s shooting death. She stood outside the courthouse with family and friends to oppose a plea agreement offered by the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which lowered the Kuauhtli’s charge from first-degree murder to felony burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary.
Phillips said District Attorney Christian Champagne told her he had enough evidence to convict all four defendants of first-degree murder, robbery and burglary at trial. But instead, the defendants were offered plea agreements – a common practice in criminal cases.
Kuauhtli pleaded guilty Friday before District Judge William Herringer. He faces 10 to 24 years in prison. He is set for sentencing at 2 p.m. Oct. 13 in Durango.
Phillips said the District Attorney’s Office told her it offered plea agreements to avoid trials, which can be expensive and time-consuming.
Champagne said he understands the victim’s family is upset and frustrated by the judicial process. Plea agreements were offered because it was the “fair and just” resolution in those circumstances, he said.
“Obviously, we feel a sense of loss, and our deep condolences go out to the family,” Champagne said. “No amount of prison or jail can ever make up for the loss of her child.”
Vi Foti, a family friend, said Gordon was a hero and sacrificed his own life to save his friends. Phillips added that the four defendants’ motive was greed, and her son, if he was still alive, would have been across the street protesting with other environmental activists.
firstname.lastname@example.orgAn earlier version of this story erred in saying Kodi Kuauhtli would plead guilty to second-degree murder at later date. After being transferred to a different courtroom on Friday, a judge took Kuauhtli’s guilty plea for burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary, not second-degree murder.