Judge’s decision not ‘hard,’ but ‘tortured’
EAGLE, Colorado – After weeks of public outrage and months of the wheels of justice spinning, it took only a few minutes for District Court Judge Fred Gannett to apply the law and accept the plea deal offered the driver in a hit-and-run case.
Martin Erzinger declared his guilt in two misdemeanors in connection with a July 3 collision that left Dr. Steven Milo with severe injuries to both his body and his brain.
“It is not a hard decision, but it’s a tortured decision to determine how to bring justice to your case,” Gannett said to Milo. “You may, for the remainder of your life carry scars that are physical and emotional that cannot be cured.”
About the plea deal itself, Gannett said, “It may not be an offer I would have made to you.”
Milo’s attorney, Harold Haddon, argued passionately for Gannett to reject the plea deal
“It’s an Alice in Wonderland kind of argument, and it strikes at Dr. Milo’s gut,” Haddon said. “And it ought to make you wonder about the appropriateness of this deal.”
After more than three hours, Erzinger stepped to the podium and made his first public statements about the storm in which he has been the lightning rod: “Yes sir, “No sir,” as he addressed Gannett.
Erzinger was advised of the charges, said he understood them and told Gannett he had signed the plea agreement voluntarily.
“I’m pleading guilty to both charges,” Erzinger said.
Mark Brostrom, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, said prosecutors have plenty of evidence to move forward, but that Erzinger has no criminal history and was not using drugs or alcohol. Hence the plea deal.
“The aggravation came from the hit, and not the run,” Brostrom said.
“Is the offer itself, on its face, in that realm of reasonableness,” Gannett said. “I tell you that I believe that it is. The issue is not how someone should be handled when they hit someone, but more how they leave the scene.”
Erzinger had sleep apnea at the time of the accident and that caused him to leave the scene, said Dr. Ronald Kramer, who testified at length.
“The testing showed very severe apnea. He saw me several months later and it became very clear that he had very severe undiagnosed sleep apnea,” Kramer said.
Afterward, outside the courthouse, Milo walked over to Kramer and told Kramer his testimony was “awful,” and that he should be “ashamed.”
As Gannett passed sentence, Erzinger looked down at the podium at which he stood, slowly nodding his head.
As Thursday’s four-hour hearing got under way, Erzinger was spared the perp walk, where the defendant walks down the hall while people look at him, reporters shout questions that won’t be answered and the photographers take his picture.
Dressed in a dark gray suit and a crisp white shirt open at the collar – no tie – he walked quickly in through a front courtroom door to the left of Gannett’s bench and straight to the defendant’s table. He greeted his two attorneys, his lead attorney, Richard Tegtmeier, to his far left and Tom Silverman to his near left.
Gannett then ordered attorneys for all sides to his chambers for a closed-door meeting.
Erzinger sat at the defendant’s table alone, reviewing notes and fixing his eyes straight ahead. He didn’t swivel in his chair, didn’t fidget.
Milo, dressed in a cream-colored sweater, blue striped shirt and blue jeans, sat at a table behind the prosecutors. His wife, Jennifer, sat to his right as they chatted quietly. Occasionally she turned slightly to her left to acknowledge a friend or family member in the crowd. Milo didn’t, facing forward without wavering.
Both Milo and Erzinger focused on whatever was in front of them, literally and metaphorically.
Tegtmeier argued against the premise that Erzinger struck someone, fled and hid.
“That is a false premise,” Tegtmeier said.
Haddon, said Milo was devastated that Erzinger will not face the felony charge that was originally filed.
“He’s very emotional and the word he expressed to me is ‘outrage,’ not about the accident, but outrage that there has been no responsibility to Mr. Erzinger by the District Attorney’s office,” Haddon said.
Milo, 33, spoke publicly for the first time about the collision. The anestheologist with Mount Sinai had just earned his first paycheck at the time of the collision.
“I was hit, and I know what happens better than most. I take care of these people all the time,” he said.
Milo talked about his physical injuries, about being flat on his back for two weeks while his second child, a daughter, was born, and his frustration with the legal system.
As Milo spoke, Erzinger rarely took his eyes off him.
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