By Lisa Young
Heather Jones, handcuffed in an orange jumpsuit, sat mostly motionless during the three-hour sentencing hearing in Delta County District Court on Friday. Jones was sentenced to 24 years by Judge Steven L. Schultz for the murder of long time friend Ryan Redifer following the tragic shooting at his Paonia home on Jan. 12, 2018.
During the trial, Defense Attorney Brandon Luna argued Jones thought she was shooting an intruder instead of Redifer. However, a jury of 12 peers found Jones guilty of second degree murder after six hours of deliberation in March. In Colorado second degree murder, a Class 2 felony, is knowingly causing the death of another person.
Now months later Jones, convicted of second degree murder, listened to the emotional testimony of Redifer’s two daughters, Rachel Johnson and Jessica Duty both asking the court for the maximum 48-year sentence.
Johnson, holding her infant daughter, Ryan, named after her grandfather, tearfully detailed her childhood memories with her dad on camping trips and just tinkering in the shop.
“He was my person, my dad and my best friend and he was ripped away from us too soon,” she said, choking back tears as she told how the family spread his ashes near Silver Jack Reservoir.
Duty also talked at length about her and her son’s relationship with Redifer. She vividly detailed how her son suffers from “adult fears” and worries that someone will shoot his mommy. At the end of her comments, Duty asked for the court “for as much time as possible” for Jones.
Family members and community supporters wearing red facial masks and matching gray T-shirts with the words “Live Like Red” fought back tears as the grown daughters described their relationship with their father and the tremendous emotional toll his death has taken on their family.
Redifer’s sister Lisa Ann Fairbairn also spoke via phone about her brother’s murder and the agonizing months of watching him slowly succumb to his injures. She tearfully read two letters from Redifer’s friends. One friend from the Navy, said the death of his friend had a “thousands of victims” referring to his former military colleagues around the world.
Following the family’s comments, the District Attorney’s office played a 15-minute edited video clip of Redifer in the hospital at both St. Mary’s in Grand Junction and later at the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) in Denver where he passed away in September 2018. Redifer, described as a giving person, donated his surviving kidney.
In the video Redifer, seen in his hospital gown, told investigators he couldn’t understand why Jones had shot him. He spoke about the evening of the shooting and at one point revealed the scar that covered his abdomen.
When asked what he wanted for Jones, he simply said, “I want her to spend time in jail... my life will never be the same… why in the hell did she shoot me?”
In the Denver hospital, Redifer seemed more worried about his future as he began to grow weaker. This time the decorated Navy veteran seemed to turn completely on his one-time friend.
“Heather showed no remorse and played off the seriousness of my injuries... I want her to go to jail,” he said with a mixture of sadness and anger.
A large number of Sheriff’s deputies, in and around the courtroom during the proceeding, listened as several members of the Paonia community took turns speaking about Jones’s character and her contribution to the community.
Jones’s defenders repeatedly asked the court for leniency as they expressed shock at what had happened calling the event “a tragic accident.”
For the first time during the trial, Jones addressed the court prior to her sentencing. She read her statement saying she, “spoke truthfully and had no malice” against her friend. Jones apologized to the Redifer’s family and to the deceased victim. Finally saying, “If I had known it was Ryan, we would not be here.”
Handling the prosecution’s closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Jessica Waggoner called out the defenses’ argument that the shooting was a tragic accident saying, “Jones acted intentionally... it was a deliberate act... she testified during cross examination that she was going to shoot whoever walked through that door.”
Waggoner asked Schultz for the maximum sentence taking into consideration the seven months that Redifer suffered before succumbing to his injuries.
Luna asked the court to weigh the character of Jones, taking into consideration her former substance abuse, mental health and her fear of retaliation in a previous matter. Luna said Jones, often portrayed as emotionless with no remorse, did in fact break down many times throughout the trial privately showing deep remorse over her actions.
Judge Schultz reminded the court that Jones had been convicted of second degree murder by a jury of her peers. He said his dilemma was to determine where within the range of sentencing to “fall.” As a class two felony the range could be 8 to 24 years and up to twice that because of the violent nature of the crime.
“You were holding a gun on someone... you took a life,” said the judge directing his remarks at Jones.
Schultz, who thoroughly reviewed the case before sentencing, took the Pre-sentencing Investigation (PSI) recommendation and ordered Jones to 24 years in prison and five years of parole. Jones was credited 252 days served in county jail.
District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller said the case was important to a community that values the right to own a gun; however, he said that right comes with a huge responsibility.
“Here the jury said the shooting of any person was not justified. She may have had the right, but she misused the right and did not act responsibly. We live in a place where we value the right to defend our homes and our families and ourselves but we have to do it responsibly...there was no threat here,” Hotsenpiller said.