An orthodox-garbed rabbi is not a common sight at Denver’s criminal courthouse. I suspected he was attending the sentencing of Shmuel Silverberg’s murderer. So was I. It was the last day of May.
Riding the otherwise empty elevator to Courtroom 5D, I introduced myself. The rabbi explained he was the school principal almost shot, trying to save Shmuel. I expressed condolences, telling him my father grew up close to Yeshiva Toras Chaim where Shmuli was slain that awful summer of 2021.
The rabbi sat in the front right row of the gallery. I sat two rows behind. In front of me was John Garcia. He had been viciously assaulted, fought back and barely escaped this roaming pack of wild men, who’d met in Colorado’s juvenile prison. The same five men moved west down Colfax, eventually murdering Shmuel.
Generous plea deals were struck with all five defendants. Judges defer to the prosecution on such matters. There would be no trial through which the public could glean facts. Denver law enforcement claimed the murder of Shmuel Silverberg was not a provable bias-motivated crime. After attending the sentencing, I agree.
Shmuel was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. That place was Denver. These violent men confronted Shmuel as he listened to headphones standing outside the school. One perpetrator chased him, cornered him, shot him down and then shot Shmuel again and again.
John Garcia was summoned to the lectern where he forcefully described the mental trauma inflicted on him and his loved ones. This proud, retired military man told the courtroom not to accept any “woke” excuses for these defendants’ misconduct.
Modern technology was utilized superbly throughout the lengthy and comprehensive sentencing presentation by Denver prosecutors Alma Staub and Kate Horton. Substantial video backed up every assertion on their expertly prepared evidence-backed timeline of irrefutable major felonies.
As the Silverberg school-security murder video played, the rabbi quietly sobbed and started shaking. A victim-advocate brought him tissues. I wished I’d brought some.
First to be sentenced was Noah Loep-Hall, now age 21. Prosecutor Horton incontrovertibly demonstrated that he was the worst perpetrator, always using firearms, culminated by his personal execution of Shmuel.
Those crimes described carry several hundred years behind bars in Colorado. Nothing Loep-Hall or his lawyer said swayed me toward leniency. We heard his parents were hopeless drug addicts, Loep-Hall was in a “desperate state of mind,” and human brains don’t develop fully till age 25.
In front of me, Garcia began quietly sobbing and shaking. I put my hand on his shoulder. I whispered to him that his words had been powerful, and I doubted anyone was accepting these excuses.
Then I was stunned. The judge announced the Loep-Hall plea agreement stipulated a sentence of 65 years. The first-degree murder of Shmuel had been reduced to second-degree murder. Dozens of felony charges were dismissed.
On 9News that afternoon, Kim Christiansen reported “significant sentences” were imposed on the offenders who “broke into eight businesses, stole multiple cars, (and) attacked eight people. They shot three of them, leaving one of them paralyzed from the waist down and ending the life of a young man who was killed at a Jewish school.”
During the break after Loep-Hall was sentenced, I shook hands with the Denver detective who’d gathered the evidence. Sometimes, all a prosecutor really needs is a finger to push the play button. Videos showed these crimes.
Denver DA Beth McCann was also there watching. We greeted each other pleasantly as always, since the first day of June 1980, when I began working in the Denver DA’s Office. She was already a district court deputy under DA Dale Tooley. I respected her then, and still do.
I saw McCann at Denver Mayor-elect Mike Johnston’s crowded Union Station celebration. These two control Denver gun crime strategies now.
After McCann went to private practice, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was an increasing gun crime problem in America and Denver. It spiked during Denver’s 1993 Summer of Violence. In the Denver DA’s Office, Norm Early and Bill Ritter cracked down on gun crimes.
There’s no constitutional right to a plea bargain. Denver murderers were taken to trial, no matter their age. On the plea bargain portion of our Denver DA file, we’d sometimes write “GORT” which meant that the defendant, based on his horrific crime, had to plead guilty to the top charge, or off to trial we’d go. We even sought and obtained a death penalty verdict.
Some violent Denver defendants received sentences exceeding 100 years. Crime went down. For decades. Now, there are exceptions for every rule. Dale Tooley and his successors used to say that when we’d come up with creative plea deals for those not pulling the trigger. The idea is to seek justice, and to adequately punish and deter crime.
It’s really not the DA’s job to determine the appropriate penalty for deliberate murder in Colorado. The Colorado legislature, where McCann long served, and ultimately successfully advocated for abolition of Colorado’s death penalty, still mandates a life sentence for first-degree murderers.
My job, as the Denver trial prosecutor of many young murderers, was to present the facts and proper arguments. It was not to give big breaks to executioners of completely innocent victims of our city.
Our tough-on-crime approach seemed to work. It helped to have an assault weapon ban (thanks Joe Biden). Denver still has an assault weapons ban. McCann is a leader when it comes to Corado’s Red Flag legislation and strict law enforcement. She and Mayor Johnston should announce some new law enforcement philosophies moving forward.
Word should go out that Denver is an inhospitable place to commit gun crimes. Forget plea deals. Zero tolerance. Even our Denver Nuggets celebrations have been marred by gun violence. So have our roadways.
When crime fears proliferate, frightened residents lend open ears to arguments against liberal prosecutors and Democrats in general. That’s how authoritarians take power. The KKK took over Colorado 100 years ago. They promised to better protect people from crime.
Loep-Hall’s first-degree murder of Shmuel Silverberg could’ve easily been proved. A life sentence would have been mandatory. He could be serving mandatory consecutive sentences for all his gun crimes.
In response to my interview request, McCann sent this written statement: “After consulting with victims, we reached a stipulated 65-year prison sentence for Noah Loepp-Hall which we believe was appropriate and was approved by the presiding judge. We were humbled by the gratitude Shmuel Silverberg’s family expressed for our work on this difficult and heartbreaking case.”
The Silverbergs live in Cleveland. May they please find peace. Their beloved son Shmuel came to Denver for education. He was murdered in cold blood by a man with a substantial juvenile crime history, and during a vicious crime spree that devastated countless lives.
Given the way Colorado’s system works, Loep-Hall will be released when he is middle-aged. And probably in Denver. Where will we be then?
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