Court of Appeals affirms convictions in Swan Mountain attempted murder |

Court of Appeals affirms convictions in Swan Mountain attempted murder

Sawyer D'Argonne, Summit Daily News
The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed convictions in the case of Tyrus Walter Vanmatre last month. Courtesy Summit County Sheriff’s Office |

The Colorado Court of Appeals has affirmed in part the conviction of Tyrus Walter Vanmatre, who is serving a life sentence after luring a man up to Swan Mountain and attempting to murder him with a machete in 2014.

In June of that year, Vanmatre drove victim Jadon Jellis from the Denver area to Summit County along with another juvenile, purportedly to attend a party on Swan Mountain.

As they were hiking up the mountain, Vanmatre and the juvenile stunned Jellis with a Taser. Vanmatre then attacked Jellis with an 18-inch serrated sword, striking him in the face, head and hand. Jellis was able to fend the men off with a knife he brought on the hike, stabbing Vanmatre in the chest. He escaped and was able to flag down a Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was driving by.

Jellis was taken to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco before being flown via Flight For Life to a Front Range hospital. Vanmatre, who maintained in trial that he acted in self-defense, was later admitted to the same hospital where he was taken into custody.

In September 2015, Vanmatre was convicted of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, first-degree assault, conspiracy to commit assault, menacing with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment.

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In January 2016, Chief Judge Mark Thompson sentenced Vanmatre to life in prison without parole. Vanmatre appealed the conviction, claiming there was insufficient evidence to support kidnapping charges, that statements he made during his police interrogation should have been suppressed, prosecutorial misconduct on the part of the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office and more.

On April 30, the Colorado Court of Appeals largely affirmed Vanmatre’s convictions, according to an opinion penned by Judge Diana Terry.

In his appeal, Vanmatre contended there was not sufficient evidence to support a conviction of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping, charges that require an individual to demand something from the victim to secure their release. The court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to support the claim.

Vanmatre also contended the court should have suppressed statements he made during his police interrogation at his trial. Police conducted their initial interview with Vanmatre while he was still at the hospital, where he chose to waive his Miranda rights — essentially a law that “prohibits the admission of incriminating statements” made during police interviews unless the defendant has been advised of the rights and waived them.

Vanmatre argued that his waiver of rights wasn’t valid, noting that he was under the influence of pain medication and was suffering discomfort from his injuries. He also said that he was confused and “not aware of what’s going on right now” at the beginning of the interrogation.

The court found that Vanmatre’s waiver of rights was valid, saying that police properly advised him of his rights in person and in writing and that Vanmatre verbally acknowledged his decision and initialed a Miranda advisement form saying he wanted to waive his rights. The court also found that “no evidence supports his contention that medications or his physical condition caused his waiver to be involuntary” and called his confusion “feigned.”

Additionally, Vanmatre said he asked to speak to an attorney while the recorder was off, a statement contradicted by police. He also said that police threatened to charge his mother with a crime if he didn’t say what police wanted.

The court wasn’t persuaded, noting that “the trial court did not find that testimony credible, and we see nothing in the record that causes us to question that finding.”

In the appeal, Vanmatre also argued that he should be granted a new trial because of misconduct on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office, saying during closing arguments that prosecutors referenced facts not entered into evidence, misstated the law and voiced opinions on his credibility.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals found no prosecutorial misconduct.

Finally, Vanmatre argued that the two conspiracy convictions should have been merged, a point conceded by prosecutors. Vanmatre’s convictions on the two conspiracy charges were vacated and remanded back to trial court to be merged. The court affirmed all of Vanmatre’s other convictions. 

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