MEEKER I On Friday, Kristina Ann Lopez, 23, one of two females who allegedly misrepresented themselves as relatives of Meeker residents in December while claiming to be selling magazines to fund a volleyball team’s trip to Florida, pleaded guilty to “theft of an at-risk victim,” a class 5 felony, but received a one-year deferred-judgment sentence.
The case against the second defendant is pending in juvenile court.
As Judge John Neily explained, an “at risk victim” is one who is “more vulnerable than your average victim, and therefore carries a more significant penalty.” In this case, the at-risk victim was an elderly terminally ill woman from whom the defendant stole $70.
Neily also explained that a deferred judgment sentence means that if the defendant complies with the terms of the sentence, in this case for one year, the case would essentially be dismissed by the prosecution and no felony conviction would appear on the defendant’s record.
Neily went to warn Lopez failure to comply with those terms would result in the case being brought back into court for further sentencing. For the original offense, the defendant “could be sentenced to the Department of Corrections for a term of one to three years … and could also carry a fine of $1,000 to $100,000 and parole of two years,” Neily said.
Neily then asked Assistant District Attorney Matthew Barrett if he had any recommendations or comments. After commenting that the defendant made a “terrible, incredibly foolish decision” by taking this money, he went on to add that she has no criminal history and has been punished for it not only by almost two months in jail—due in part, to her bond violation in failure to appear at her Feb. 20 arraignment—but also by this “potential conviction hanging over her head for the next year.”
Barrett added that a deferred judgment sentence gives the defendant “the rope that she can or cannot hang herself with.”
“She can choose to walk away from this without a significant felony on her record,” he said. He went on to emphasize that a conviction of theft of an at-risk victim is especially abhorred by society.
“That kind of conviction sends all the wrong messages,” such as to a future employer, for example, Barrett said.
Barrett concluded by saying that in his view the deferred judgment was appropriate but asked for supervised probation, 60 hours of public service so the defendant can give something back to the community and that she pay restitution to the victim.
On behalf of her client, public defender Elise Myer asked the court to accept the disposition as it had been presented, but also requested that the defendant’s probation be transferred to the Denver area since she had moved there from Maybell.
Myer also asked that the 47 days her client had served in jail be credited to the probationary period.
“I’m confident that she can move past this and forward,” Myer said. “She has been proactive in wanting to resolve this case by doing whatever the court imposes upon her.”
Neily took over at this point and addressed Lopez, “I think you are sincerely remorseful for what you did. It was a very unfortunate and stupid thing, candidly. But I can tell by your demeanor that you are ready to move on and make a good-faith effort to put this behind you.
“This is a case where the amount is small, but the impact on people is large,” he said.
In addition to the other stipulations of the deferred judgment sentence, he also ordered the defendant to write a letter to the victim “to express your gratitude for her willingness to make a statement in favor of this sentence and to express your sincere apologies for what you did.” It was his added opinion that this would make the victim and the defendant feel better and demonstrate “that there’s some good out there.”
Upon wishing the defendant luck, Neily ended by encouraging Lopez, “Don’t hang yourself with the rope Mr. Barrett has given you; I think you’re going to be all right.”
In the case of the second defendant, a preliminary hearing has been set for Apr. 17 in juvenile court. The Rio Blanco Court Clerk’s Office said it will be determined at that hearing whether or not the media will be allowed to attend future proceedings.