Zhane Ware will serve a four-and-a-half-year sentence in the Youthful Offender System (YOS) after pleading guilty to his involvement in the armed robbery of a Delta convenience store last November.
"Frankly, most defendants would not have received that kind of offer [from the district attorney]," Judge Steven Schultz said at the conclusion of a sentencing hearing in Delta District Court July 18.
But because Ware has no criminal history and is just 19 years old, the DA's office, defense attorney James Clark and the judge agreed the sentence is appropriate. A 10-year Department of Corrections sentence will be suspended upon successful completion of the YOS sentence.
The youth offender program is described as a type of "boot camp" for offenders between the ages of 18 and 21. Located in Cañon City, the camp is intended for young men who do not have extensive criminal histories, although they have been convicted of a "generally significant" crime.
Judge Schultz emphasized that YOS is equivalent to the Department of Corrections, in that Ware will be spending
years in a lockdown facility. He urged Ware to take advantage of all the programs available to help youthful offenders turn their lives around. If Ware does not succeed in YOS, Judge Schultz warned he "will not hesitate" to impose the DOC sentence.
Ware, a recent graduate of Delta High School, was supported in person and in writing by several DHS faculty members who described him as a strong student and "all-around good person" who simply made a mistake. Deputy district attorney Kurt Beckenhauer said the criminal act was not simply a "mistake," but the result of thoughtful planning that involved the use of a deadly weapon, which was pointed at the head of the convenience store clerk while threatening to blow her head off. "He was prepared to shoot her; it wasn't a bluff," Beckenhauer told the court.
The convenience store clerk was present for sentencing, but declined to address the court. Beckenhauer said the incident deeply impacted the victim's life and she is now in counseling to deal with lingering fears -- all because Ware was looking for a way to settle an $80 debt. Beckenhauer asked for sentencing on the upper end of the two- to six-year range.
Ware briefly addressed the court, accepting full responsibility for his actions and promising to do his best to prove to the court, to his family and to his victim that he is not a threat to the community.
Ware was arrested within hours of the robbery and has been held in the Delta County Jail since that time. He will receive credit for 243 days of pre-sentence confinement, and must complete five years of probation at the conclusion of his sentence.