Local middle school students plead guilty to Alpine Arms theft

The 2 suspects at the center of the burglary have made great progress on probation, officer says

Two local middle school students pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and illegal possession of firearms Wednesday after they stole five handguns from Alpine Arms in Eagle over the summer.

Eagle police brought charges against three youths in connection to the Aug. 23 incident. All three have now pleaded guilty to different charges depending on their level of involvement in the crime.

The two main defendants came before Chief Judge Paul R. Dunkelman of the 5th Judicial District Wednesday afternoon to enter guilty pleas to conspiring to commit second degree burglary.

The first defendant to appear before Dunkelman also pleaded guilty to three counts of illegal possession of a firearm by a minor. The youth was charged with a “violent juvenile offender” sentence enhancer. This means that, if he does not adhere to the requirements set forth for him in his sentence, he will be required to spend at least one year in a rehabilitation or juvenile correctional facility outside of the home, Dunkelman said Wednesday.

The sentence enhancer was handed down after it was discovered that the defendant had made statements to another person telling them that they were at the top of his “kill list,” according to Deputy District Attorney Daniel Steinhauser. This also resulted in protection orders and a total of 15 original charges being brought against the defendant.

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The second defendant pleaded guilty to just two counts of possession of a firearm by a minor and was not charged with any kind of sentence enhancer. He was originally charged with 14 counts related to the theft.

Both of the two main defendants will be afforded with “deferred adjudication,” meaning their convictions for the main conspiracy to commit burglary charge will be put on hold for a certain period of time — two years in the case of the first defendant and 18 months for the second.

If they successfully satisfy the terms and conditions of their sentences during this period of time, it will be as if they never pleaded guilty and the crimes will be wiped from their records. If they do not fulfill the requirements of their sentences, they will come back before the court to be given a new sentence.

This is an arrangement commonly afforded to juvenile defendants so crimes committed in their youth do not deter them from getting back on the right track in life, Dunkelman explained.

After each of the two defendants entered their guilty pleas, a member of Eagle County’s probation department stepped up to talk about how the youths have been doing over the last five months of being on probation.

“Things have gone really well” with the first defendant, the probation officer said, adding that this fall he earned the best grades he has had in years.

He “surpassed what our expectations were” and has “earned the privilege” to have his 24-hour ankle monitoring unit removed, she said, a request which Dunkelman granted Wednesday.

The defendant “has more than shown that he can be trusted in the community … without the weight of that ankle monitor on him,” she said.

The second defendant has also done well in adhering to the terms of probation, which include a ban on social media, violent video games and internet use for any purpose beyond schooling, the probation officer said. Dunkelman also granted a request to have his ankle monitor removed and allowed for a modified supervision plan to take the place of the 24-hour supervision previously mandated.

The probation officer encouraged the court to review and consider modifying the conditions of both defendants’ probation agreements so as not to restrict their educational and social development moving forward.

Coordinating remote learning and individualized education plans or IEPs with Eagle County Schools has been challenging, the probation officer said of the two defendants. The probation department is working with the district to figure out when and where the defendants can return for in-person schooling.

Deputy District Attorney Steinhauser also praised both individuals for working to take responsibility for their actions, calling the second defendant “a good kid” and saying that both should be proud of their progress.

The two defendants will have sentencing hearings next month. They may be ordered to pay restitution for damages they caused the Eagle gun store.

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