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By Randi Pierce
Lucas Quinn Chavez, of Pagosa Springs, was sentenced to prison Tuesday morning by District Court Judge Gregory Lyman for his involvement in the January 2011 stabbing of a Pagosa Springs man, as well as being sentenced in three other cases.
The original case Chavez faced stemmed from the 2011 incident.
At approximately 5:40 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2011, the Pagosa Springs Police Department was notified that the victim of a stabbing was in the Pagosa Mountain Hospital emergency room.
It was reported the stabbing occurred at 375 N. Fifth Street and the victim, a 21-year-old Pagosa Springs man, had two injuries caused by a knife.
One of the injuries was life threatening and the victim was transported to Mercy Medical Center.
A subsequent investigation, aided by the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office and a District Attorney investigator, resulted in the arrest of the lone suspect — Chavez, 19 at the time — on charges of attempted first-degree murder.
The ultimate charge filed against Chavez, now 20, was second-degree murder, a class-three felony, for the incident, and Chavez sought a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
After he was deemed competent to stand trial following a mental health evaluation, a plea deal struck by Chavez with the District Attorney’s Office in July 2012 lowered the charge to felony menacing, a class-five felony.
In addition to the menacing conviction, Chavez was also sentenced on two misdemeanors (disorderly conduct and an assault in the jail) and a felony assault on a peace officer for a January incident during which he spit on a correctional officer in the Archuleta County Detention Center.
For the two misdemeanors, Chavez received jail time with credit for time served, effectively closing both cases.
For each of the felonies, Chavez was sentenced to three years in the Colorado Department of Corrections, with 641 days of credit for time served in the menacing case, as well as some costs and fees.
Several people spoke in support of Chavez at the sentencing, including his mother, brother, grandmother, uncle, aunt, a former employer, Chavez’s current and former attorneys and an off-duty detentions officer.
Many of those who spoke on Chavez’s behalf called for fairness and thoughtfulness in light of a mental illness (which was never further defined in open court).
Chavez’s aunt, Rose Chavez, was the first to speak, phoning in to testify on her nephew’s behalf. Citing a background in public health, she pleaded that Lyman take into account rehabilitation for Chavez’s mental health issues, as well as the amount of time he has been incarcerated, asking that Chavez have access to medication and rehabilitation.
An uncle, Chris Chavez, was next, asking not for the minimum sentence, but for a thoughtful sentence.
“I would like for you to give Lucas what you think is best,” Chris Chavez said.
Chris Chavez recalled his own time in prison, noting that his nephew could either by educated by programs available in prison, or by the prison population, noting, “It would be better for him to not have to deal with that.”
After noting that Chavez already knew what it was like to be locked up, Chris Chavez talked of family support for Chavez upon release and a desire to see him enter into aftercare.
Chavez’s grandmother, Alice Chavez, was the next to testify on his behalf, also calling for rehabilitation.
“I feel that Lucas needs help,” Alice Chavez said, later adding, “Not just for this, but so he can become a good citizen.”
Brother Jason Chavez was next, who began his testimony by saying he had possibly spent more time with Chavez than anyone.
Jason Chavez opined that Chavez was not competent to make decisions and suggested an institution versus prison.
Harry Mehlman, Chavez’s former employer, also called for treatment, noting he believes that incarceration would not help Chavez.
“I think I’m better off for knowing him,” Mehlman said.
Linda Carter, a former attorney for Chavez, suggested the possibility of alternative corrections for Chavez to take into account his mental health, citing her background in the Department of Corrections and saying she has seen what prison can do to people similar to Chavez.
“Lucas is actually a fine young man,” Carter said. “He has demons he has to fight on a daily basis.”
Betsy Chavez, the defendant’s mother, was the next to speak, asking for Chavez to be sent to an environment conducive to his getting better.
“Whatever the sentence is, Lucas still has to deal with the mental illness,” she said, calling the diagnosis Chavez received as a teenager, “worse than cancer.”
Betsy Chavez also suggested that her son had come to insight and understanding throughout his legal proceedings.
Chavez’s current attorney, Kenneth Pace, began his statement by saying Chavez was, “doing some of the hardest time a person can do,” being in solitary confinement with a mental illness. Pace later added that, although Chavez was not deemed legally insane by the state, it did not mean he was not driven by, “mental illness and mental deficiencies.”
Pace said that, while the plea agreement called for a prison sentence, he hoped Lyman and the District Attorney’s office would be open to a converted sentence in the future to accommodate a treatment program for Chavez.
Pace also asked Lyman to let the sentence reflect the crime in the case of the assault on the detention officer — that it was only spitting (Pace acknowledged the possibility of communicative diseases).
Pace suggested two, two-year sentences to run concurrently.
“No matter what this court does, Lucas Chavez will be released from custody in the near future,” Pace said, calling for health treatment and calling Chavez intellectual and thoughtful.
“I think he’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever met,” Pace said.
Sentiments expressed then shifted with testimony from Det. Scott Maxwell of the Pagosa Springs Police Department and Deputy District Attorney Alex Lowe.
“I do honestly want the best for Lucas and his family,” Maxwell said before adding that there was another side — that Chavez is a, “very dangerous individual.”
Maxwell said the situation is atypical for the area, calling it one in which a stranger was stalked and nearly killed, but added he knew little about Chavez’s condition and treatment.
Maxwell asked that Lyman, “balance the sentence with public safety and the safety of those around him.”
Lowe said he understood that mental health figures in the situation and that the prison system is not designed to deal with, “these problems,” but said Chavez, “is and has the potential to be very dangerous.”
Lowe said the, “signs were there,” prior to the incidents involved in the sentencing and that the stabbing — a random act of violence that dealt with a populated area, a stranger and a deadly weapon — was close to being a homicide.
Lowe also noted that Chavez was deemed to have been sane at the time of the incidents and asked for a minimum of four years for the menacing, if not the six that constituted the maximum sentence per the plea deal.
“I do wish Mr. Chavez the best,” Lowe said.
Last to speak in favor of Chavez was Debbie McCoy, who identified herself as a former deputy for the ACSO and a current correctional officer in the ACDC.
McCoy stated she had seen Chavez both from the standpoint of arresting him during an episode of rage and as a correctional officer dealing with a well-medicated Chavez.
McCoy called the changes between the two extremes, “simply amazing.”
“I believe there’s a chance for him … to live a better life,” McCoy said.
Chavez then briefly addressed the court on his own behalf, saying that, when he was in society, he was not on medication.
“I do hope for the best for myself,” Chavez said, adding that he wants to make good decisions.
“Obviously, it’s a difficult case,” Lyman said before acknowledging that, while there may be several different views of mental illness, the law set a standard and Chavez was deemed sane and competent.
Before handing down the sentence, Lyman called Chavez a, “handful for this community” and told Chavez that it would take tremendous work on his part to lead a productive life.
Lyman also said he would consider a treatment plan if one were brought forward within three to five months.
“I hope to see you again shortly and listen to a plan,” Lyman said.