Local rancher Kathleen "Kathy" Denson arrived Monday at the Eagle County Justice Center facing up to 48 years in prison. At the end of the day, she left a free woman.
A 12-person jury unanimously acquitted Denson of murdering her former boyfriend, Gerald "Cody" Boyd, with a black-powder pistol.
Deliberating two hours, the jurors found Denson not guilty of second-degree murder as well as manslaughter, a lesser offense introduced Monday that can carry a sentence of one to 12 years.
During the 10-day-trial, Denson admitted shooting Gerald "Cody" Boyd with a .44 black-powder pistol at her ranch June 27, 2002. But Scott Robinson, Denson's attorney, said in closing arguments that state law allows the use of force in self-defense.
"Kathleen Denson did what the law says is her right," Robinson told the jury. "We are asking you not to consider sacrificing the rights of self-defense to compromise in a verdict. We ask you not to consider reckless manslaughter. Kathleen Denson had a right to stay in her house and defend it, and not run out through the door."
Denson, 46, owner of the 77-acre Draggin' A Ranch, located between Eagle and Gypsum, as well as Designer Furs in Vail, appeared calm but smoked cigarettes while the jury deliberated. She cried as the verdict was read. Then she hugged her civil attorney Frank Zlogar, who is representing her in one of the civil lawsuits against her.
"I'm relieved, but I'm not surprised," said Denson as she stepped out of Courtroom 2 at the Eagle County Justice Center. "I'm going to go home to be with my family. My daughter is five months pregnant. I want to go touch that belly."
"It's being a long year," she added as she left the courthouse.
"My job isn't over'
Declaring that an enraged Denson knowingly shot Boyd, the prosecution asked the jury to find Denson guilty of second-degree murder and not manslaughter.
"I respect the jury's verdict," said prosecutor Phil Smith
who with Assistant District Attorney Greg Crittenden prosecuted the case.
Robinson said he was thrilled for Denson, but his job isn't over.
"She still faces two civil lawsuits," Robinson said. Denson faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Boyd's former wife in the name of his 12-year-old daughter, Callie, and a termination suit filed by her former employee, Monica "Monique" Seebacher, who also was Boyd's girlfriend at the time of the shooting.
While the outcome of this trial can benefit Denson in the lawsuits against her, Robinson said, Boyd's insurance company would likely deny the life insurance policy, which was in Denson's name.
"My client wouldn't have cashed it," he said. "But now nobody can, because the decedent died committing a crime."
In his closing arguments, Robinson cited the Home Intruder Statute, which allows the owner of a house to defend herself from somebody who is breaking in.
"We've heard testimony saying that Denson had asked Boyd not to come back to the ranch and he had given her the keys back," Robinson said. "And Kathleen Denson believed that Boyd could have used physical force against her. The prosecution will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Kathleen Denson killed Boyd knowingly."
Smith said in closing arguments that there was no evidence supporting self-defense.
"There was no burglary, no assault, no intruder," Smith said.
He added that the journal notes found at Denson's home were the heart of the case.
"In the journal entries, she talks about love and pain," he said. "We know she doesn't talk about threats, extortion and beatings."
"There are two states of mind in this case: knowing and reckless. In this case is knowing. That's why we are asking for a second-degree murder conviction," he told the jury.
Robinson said the notes only showed that Denson was being manipulated.
"Despite her success in business, my client was a poor judge of character," Robinson said. "Cody Boyd was going to stop at nothing to get money from Kathleen Denson."
For nine days, the jury listened to a parade of witnesses who portrayed a five-year-long relationship between Denson and Boyd that included an ongoing love triangle (with Seebacher), drugs, guns and money.
Testimony included Seebacher's, who said she had gone with Denson and Boyd to Mexico a month before the shooting.
A toxicologist expert said Boyd had been "very likely significantly impaired by cocaine at the time of his death."
And Mary Jo Boyd, Boyd's mother, testified that Boyd had called her one night from Mexico when he was drunk and said he "was a hit man."
Although the prosecution maintained that Denson had maintained an intimate relationship with Boyd and almost proposed marriage to him - even after she said she paid him $100,000 not to kill her son - a juror said the prosecution didn't prove their case beyond reasonable doubt.
"The DAs didn't have a case against her," said juror Jeff Burns of Basalt after the verdict was delivered. "The only thing they proved is that there was a killing."
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.