May Alexa Bartell please rest in peace. This world failed her. All decent people are dismayed.
Alexa’s violent murder shocked and frightened Colorado. Only 20 years old, Alexa possessed all the potential in the world. We saw Alexa’s smiling picture, only to learn how her bright light was extinguished forever on April 19.
Alexa’s senseless death happened on a dark Colorado two-lane roadway on a springtime Wednesday night. A giant stone pierced her windshield and Alexa’s skull. It could’ve been my 20-year-old son living in Boulder. It could have been any of us.
Alexa’s loved ones were personally escorted by Jefferson County DA Alexis King into Jefferson County District Courtroom 520 last Wednesday. Those of us there witnessed the arraignment of three high school seniors from Arvada, accused of murdering Alexa Bartell.
King had a serious, focused look on her face.
Staring at the young defendants, you could attempt to gauge their levels of seriousness. Teams of criminal defense lawyers surrounded them, waived formal reading of charges and any current argument about bond.
The defendants’ parents were there, sitting on the other side of the courtroom gallery, away from the victims and away from the media. I imagined their shame and sadness. Their sons likely will be locked up for a long time, but probably not as long as people think.
My Sun colleague Mario Nicolais powerfully demanded these defendants be locked up forever. He wrote: “The men accused of killing her (Alexa) had no regard for her life — or apparently most other human life — and should spend the rest of theirs in prison.”
King apparently agreed. She’s charged first-degree-murder, declaring the defendants killed Alexa “under circumstances evidencing an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally.” That “universal malice” element will be challenging to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
But probable cause was established in Jeffco Sheriff’s Investigator Daniel Manka’s well-crafted affidavit. We will find out soon enough if DA King can demonstrate “proof evident and presumption great” that these defendants committed first-degree murder, justifying the defendants to be further jailed without bond.
A life sentence, without parole, awaits first-degree murderers in Colorado. These defendants face multiple other felonies for their additional rock throwing, thereby triggering lengthy consecutive sentences.
Alexa Bartell was attacked on rural Indiana Street near Jeffco’s border with Boulder County. A large landscaping “river rock” was hurled from a 2016 Black Chevy Silverado driving the opposite direction.
We know this through two confessions, and a corroborating investigation.
A 20-year-old told investigators he hung out with 18-year-olds Mitch Karol-Chik, Zach Kwak and Joe Koenig on April 19. This witness said he watched them steal huge stones from Walmart and left, fearing awful things may follow. This witness knew Joe Koenig as an agent of chaos. So did Koenig’s neighbor.
Before witnesses came forward, Jeffco investigators gathered excellent high-tech clues from Verizon cell phone tower data dumps, pinpointing pings from these defendant’s smartphones near varied river-rock-throwing scenes at key times.
A similar broad data grab was the subject of a fascinating Colorado Supreme Court argument last Thursday. In that horrific case, three juveniles allegedly killed a family of five in Green Valley Ranch. A 14-year-old received 10 years incarceration. These Senegalese arson victims were as innocent as Alexa Bartell.
These juvenile arsonists had the wrong address. Their Google search of that specific address led police, utilizing a reverse keyword search warrant, to identify the defendants.
Technology provides new ways to detect the old problem of bored teenagers committing awful crimes. Expect Jeffco prosecutors to prevail in Alexa’s case. Imprisonment will follow. But don’t expect these teenage defendants to remain incarcerated three decades from now.
Passions fade. Laws change. Governors intervene. That’s already happened to Alexis King. Inmates get released early. I’ve lived long enough to see it many times.
Back in 1995, I prosecuted three 16-year-olds who carried out a home invasion plot to fatally shoot Cheryl Armstrong’s ex-boyfriend and his new pregnant girlfriend. Even though her juvenile hitmen got life sentences, and Armstrong received 96 years, all of them are now free, far less than 30 years later. Our U.S. Supreme Court determined life imprisonment is too harsh for defendants under age 18.
Four teenagers and a 21-one year old, fresh from juvenile incarceration together, went on a Denver crime spree on Aug. 17, 2021, culminating in the assassination of Shmuel Silverberg, an 18-year-old yeshiva student killed at his West Denver seminary. Plea deals have been struck with five defendants. On May 31, we should learn parameters of any plea deals when they are sentenced.
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Alexa’s short life was celebrated recently by over 500 people at Arvada’s Storyline Church. Alexa loved peace. Alexa had a tattoo on her arm with a Bible verse that included, “Love your enemies.”
So many people loved Alexa. Her family will be consulted about any plea bargaining. In other states, charges have started out tough on deadly teenage rock throwers, and then been drastically reduced.
Expect that DA Alexis King will now learn everything she can about every defendant. And about Alexa.
There may come a time for mercy. But that day is not today.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun and an active Colorado trial lawyer with Craig Silverman Law, LLC. He also hosts The Craig Silverman Show podcast.
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