FORT COLLINS — A botched investigation into the shooting death of a Colorado State University student will allow the roommate who owned the gun to avoid prison and wipe his record clean after two years.
The problems with the case against Colemann Carver, 22, on charges related to the death of Finnegan Daly frustrated prosecutors. “There were errors that were made in the first investigation that could not be corrected,” Deputy District Attorney Ashley Barber told a judge, outlining a litany of oversights, faulty evidence and missed forensic tests that could have helped the prosecution.
Carver pleaded guilty to felony tampering with evidence, and at a sentencing hearing Wednesday in Fort Collins, he received two years of supervised probation under a deal that allows him to clear the conviction if he successfully meets the terms.
Eighth Judicial District Judge Susan Blanco appeared to reluctantly accept the terms of the sentencing agreement between prosecutors and Carver’s defense attorney, which included the dismissal of two other misdemeanor charges. “The problem here is there are so many discrepancies and so many questions unanswered,” Blanco said, acknowledging that gaps mean no one “is ever really going to know what happened.”
MORE: A Snapchat leads police to reopen investigation of CSU student’s death and raises questions about gun violence
When the judge pressed the prosecution about why Carver should avoid jail time, Barber responded: “Because honestly we would have problems with proof at trial.”
In an emotional sentencing hearing, the Daly family spent two hours outlining problems with the police investigation and prosecution as they remembered Finnegan Daly, a 21-year-old in his senior year, as a natural leader who valued friends and family.
“I guess we are supposed to be grateful that it’s gotten this far,” said John Bucolo, Finnegan’s stepfather. “… But we are not — we are, frankly, angry.”
The prosecutor credited the family’s “persistent sense that something is not right” and repeated calls to investigators as the reason the case was reopened.
As The Colorado Sun first reported, Fort Collins police closed the first investigation into Daly’s January 2018 death after two months, ruling it accidental and closing it without criminal charges.
Among the evidence police overlooked — and that the family asked investigators to look at, sparking the reopening of the investigation — was a Snapchat photo taken 15 to 20 minutes before a female roommate called 911.
The photo, a selfie taken by Daly, showed him holding an unloaded handgun in the foreground and Carver holding three more guns, including the Glock 34 that killed Daly.
The snap contradicts Carver’s statements to police about what happened that night, but it wasn’t mentioned in the initial investigative report.
Carver initially told police he was putting his guns away when Finnegan came in the room, picked a gun up and the gun went off, causing Finnegan to shoot himself in the head. The coroner ruled Finnegan’s death a suicide.
“I see no evidence of that gun in Finnegan’s hand except for a story,” Regina Daly told the judge during Carver’s sentencing hearing.
In subsequent interviews, Carver acknowledged that the two had been drinking and posed for the snap with the guns minutes before Finnegan Daly was killed.
Carver also later admitted to hiding beer cans and a bong, moving the weapon that killed Finnegan, and using mouthwash to hide the smell of alcohol before he called police, according to court documents.
MORE: New details cast doubt on Fort Collins police investigation of CSU student’s 2018 shooting death
But police did not take breath or blood tests from Carver or a female roommate the night of the shooting, the prosecutor told the judge, so they had no evidence anyone had been drinking.
In addition, there is no audio with the video recording of the interview with another roommate at the police station the night of the shooting, Barber said. The gun used in the shooting also didn’t undergo function testing immediately after the shooting.
Gunshot residue collected from Daly was never tested, and Carver was never tested for gunshot residue. But Barber said any evidence from that test wouldn’t be helpful because of how and where the shooting occurred.
In the end, Barber said the charges filed against Carver were all they had evidence for, and the plea agreement resulted from prosecutors’ lack of confidence to convince a jury of these charges with the evidence they have.
“We can’t get answers to some of the questions we’d want to have,” she said.
Finnegan Daly’s mother remained adamant that her son didn’t shoot himself, as the police and coroner concluded. “From my vantage point, Finnegan was framed for his own death,” she told Blanco, calling the plea deal an attempt to brush the case under the rug.
Carver declined an opportunity to speak at the hearing, but his attorney affirmed the gaps in evidence and highlighted the tragic nature of the case. “I don’t know if there’s anything that he can do or say to ease their pain,” defense attorney Derek Samuelson said on behalf of his client. “They’ve suffered the ultimate loss.”
Blanco called it “an investigation that sounds like it went awry and maybe was poorly completed is the nicest way to state it.”
After Blanco accepted the plea agreement, she sentenced Carver to a two-year deferred sentence, meaning that if he completes all of the terms of his sentence in two years, his guilty plea would be withdrawn and he could request to have his record sealed from the public.
In the next two years, Carver must complete 500 hours of community service, with the first 250 completed in the first year. He must also complete a substance abuse evaluation and treatment and abstain from using alcohol, marijuana or other drugs not prescribed to him.
In addition, Carver was ordered to complete a home firearms safety course — without handling a firearm — and write a 1,000 word essay explaining the dangers of handling firearms while under the influence of alcohol and drugs — as prosecutors suspect he was the night Finnegan died. He must also attend a firearms safety course.
If Carver does not complete those terms, he could face 12 to 18 months in prison and up to a $100,000 fine, Blanco said at a previous hearing.
Sady Swanson is a staff writer at The Coloradoan, which partnered on this story with The Colorado Sun.