After apologizing to the family of Trever Rawson for yet another court hearing, Judge Keri Yoder denied a modification in the six-year prison sentence handed to the man responsible for the death of their son and brother in 2013.
Mark Valdez and a friend, Kevin Keener, were hunting just south of Crawford in rural Montrose County when the tragic death occurred. During an attempt to retrieve an elk they'd shot, they stretched a rope across Highway 92. Rawson stuck the rope while riding his motorcycle and was killed instantly.
Initially, Valdez and Keener left the scene, then claimed Rawson "just crashed," and that they did not see anything. Finally, a 16-year-old boy accompanying the two men came forward with the truth and the case went to the grand jury. Lengthy indictments were handed down against both Valdez and Keener in April 2014.
As the judicial process inched forward, numerous counts were dropped and the men were allowed to enter into plea agreements. In January 2016, Judge Jeff Herron sentenced Valdez to six years in prison. Because Keener did not have a clear view of the events as they transpired, he was sentenced to two years in prison.
Valdez was undergoing physical therapy for a work-related injury and his attorney requested his sentence be postponed. The judge denied that request.
In Montrose District Court -- before a different judge and represented by a new attorney, Dan Schaffer -- Valdez requested a modification in his sentence that would allow him to move into a community corrections facility on the Front Range where he could undergo physical therapy.
Again the judge denied his request.
Judge Yoder noted the matter was previously considered by Judge Herron, who has since retired from the bench. In addition, Valdez has already gotten the benefit of a reduced sentence by virtue of the plea agreement which dismissed most of the 10 charges initially levied against him. He is incarcerated at the Delta Correctional Center and is likely to be released on parole long before six years have passed.
She also agreed with family members, who told the judge they don't believe Valdez has accepted responsibility for his actions. He continues to refer to Rawson's death as an "accident"; both the judge and family members said it was much more than an accident, because it was the result of reckless conduct and was totally preventable. In the original sentencing hearing, Judge Herron called the incident "one of the most stupid things I have ever seen."
At the hearing last week, Valdez asked the family for forgiveness, but failed to generate any empathy when he called Rawson's daughter by the wrong name.
While Valdez can petition to the court for reconsideration of his sentence, district attorney Dan Hotsenpiller pointed out Trever's family doesn't have that right. They can't seek out a new attorney, come before a new judge and ask for a longer sentence, although that's exactly what they'd like to do. They have steadfastly objected to the plea agreement and to hear that Valdez is already close to parole eligibility is "brutal to hear for these people," Hotsenpiller said.
"The sentence was appropriate and the evidence does not justify modifcation," he told the judge, who agreed with his assessment.
Hotsenpiller said Colorado Department of Corrections records indicate Valdez will be eligible for parole in May 2018.