After 2½ years and several legal twists and turns, on Wednesday, Judge Jeffrey Wilson sentenced Brenden Dow Ashburn to 20 years in prison, with five additional years of probation.
Ashburn, 38, was convicted of one count of manslaughter in the shooting death of 26-year-old Fort Lewis College student David Alan Jones on Aug. 18, 2012. Todd Risberg, the district attorney for the 6th Judicial District, who prosecuted the case, said Ashburn also was convicted of three counts of felony menacing.
“There was a lot of moving testimony from family and friends,” Risberg said about the sentencing. “And Ashburn said he’s ‘real sorry.’ This was just tragic.”
The shooting occurred in the San Juan National Forest about four miles north of Henderson Lake, 20 miles north of Durango.
Jones and his friend Eric Berry were camping, with Ashburn alone at a campsite about 100 yards away and another family camping nearby.
According to the arrest affidavit, which drew largely from an interview with Berry, Ashburn joined the two young men at their campsite, where they drank whiskey and beer and smoked marijuana before the shooting. Earlier in the day, Jones and Berry had given Ashburn’s vehicle a jump-start, but they did not know him before the incident.
Nine hours after the shooting, Ashburn’s blood-alcohol level was measured in a breath test at 0.17 percent, more than twice the legal limit for driving.
“If he drinks again, he goes back to prison,” Risberg said about Ashburn’s probationary period, because alcohol played such a significant part in the incident.
After a few hours, Ashburn pulled a revolver from his coat pocket, removing it from the holster and showing it to Jones and Berry. Ashburn fired one shot straight up in the air.
“Berry and Jones were shocked by his behavior,” the affidavit says.
They asked Ashburn to put the gun away, and he became agitated, threatening to shoot them if they didn’t “shut up,” and pointing the pistol back and forth at the two men.
After about 15 minutes, Jones stood up “nervously” to tend to the fire, when Ashburn fired a single shot, hitting Jones in the upper torso. Jones walked about 6 feet before collapsing.
Berry ran, shouting, “He shot my friend.”
Former U.S. Marine David Pribble and his family were at the nearby campsite. Pribble grabbed his pistol, ran over and confronted Ashburn, who had a pistol in his hand. After Pribble pointed his pistol and ordered Ashburn to drop the weapon, he forcibly took the gun from Ashburn, the affidavit said. Pribble tied his hands with rope, then escorted Ashburn to the Pribble family’s campsite, where he tied Ashburn to an aspen tree, leaving his wife and son to stand guard while Pribble went to find a cellphone signal.
Ashburn was originally charged with first-degree murder and faced either life in prison or the death penalty. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in July 2013, and he was evaluated at the state mental-health hospital in Pueblo.
Wednesday’s sentencing was the result of a plea deal. Wilson gave Ashburn the maximum sentence included in the deal.