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In 2007, a teenager was arrested — and ultimately pleaded guilty to attempted murder — after attacking another student at Montrose High School.
At the time, information about the crime, including the teen’s name, were readily available through public records.
This past December, an 11-year-old was accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Karmen Keefauver, 62. Details are sparse, including his identity.
That’s because the law pertaining to juvenile suspects and offenders changed in 2017. Where before in Colorado, a juvenile’s name was releasable to the public and media depending on the nature of the crime he or she was accused of committing and whether a deadly weapon was used, there are now more restrictions on what the custodians of those records can release.
“Under the law, there is very limited information we can give in juvenile cases,” District Attorney Seth Ryan said in a January interview.
“We strive to follow our legal obligations, as well as avoid any prejudice to any of our defendants as far as releasing information to the public before a person has had the opportunity to be in court, but especially with our juvenile suspects. We have to be extra careful about the information we provide.”
Under the 2017 law, courts and other authorities are prohibited from publicly disclosing a juvenile suspect’s name, birth date or photo if he or she is charged with a serious crime, as Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Executive Director Jeffrey Roberts explained in a 2017 article.
The fact of an arrest, the date of the arrest, the name of the arresting agency and the nature of the charges remain releasable to the public.
Per the statute, under certain circumstances, the public has access “to information reporting the arrest or other formal filing of charges against a juvenile; the identity of the criminal justice agency taking such official action relative to an accused juvenile; the date and place that such official action was taken relative to an accused juvenile; the nature of the charges brought or the offenses alleged; and one or more dispositions relating to the charges brought against an accused juvenile … ”
This applies when: the juvenile is in custody; is deemed delinquent or faces revocation of probation for possessing a handgun; commits an act that would be a class-4 felony or greater if he or she was an adult, or when charged with certain crimes.
The 2017 law does not affect public information pertaining to juveniles 12 and older against whom charges are directly filed in adult court.
“The purpose of having a whole different section is because the law recognizes that children are different — even developmentally and physically different — than adults,” said Kori Keil Zapletal, lead deputy state public defender for the Montrose Regional office of the Public Defender.
“One example of the difference between adult and adolescent brains is the lack of prefrontal cortex development in children. This controls the ability of children to delay, weigh options, and think about risks and consequences before they act. Colorado law has a separate section of the law for children under the age of 18.”
Several United State Supreme Court cases illustrate how the law treats minors differently.
In 2005, SCOTUS found sentencing juveniles to death violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. According to the American Bar Association’s summary by Morgan Tyler, the court found minors have “less impulse control, increased susceptibility to peer influence and lack of good reasoning,” which makes them “less culpable than adults.”
In 2010, the High Court employed similar reasoning in finding that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for an offense other than homicide also constituted cruel and unusual punishment, according to the ABA’s summary.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled juveniles cannot be sentenced to mandatory life without parole, including for homicide, but instead, sentencing should be on a case-by-case basis that takes into account the youth’s developmental stage. And in 2011, SCOTUS ruled that age is relevant in determining what constitutes “police custody” with respect to the Miranda warning — an advisement of constitutional rights that either must take place or be voluntarily and competently waived. Children have a different perception of the legal system because they are easily influenced and therefore, do not grasp the concept of police custody in the way an adult would, per the ABA.
“The purpose of the juvenile code has a different focus than the adult code, a focus that is more geared toward rehabilitation and the best interest of the child,” Zapletal said.
Courts are to pursue an end that is in the juvenile’s best interests, she said, in contrast to how adults are sentenced. An adult sentence takes into account a variety of factors, such as punishment and deterring similar crimes.
In the Keefauver case, Ryan was able to say the young suspect has been slated for a preliminary hearing March 12. He could not provide case details, both because of the law governing the release of juvenile information, and because the case has not reached disposition.
“It’s early in the process. We’re still assessing the information that we have. We’ll continue to look at the evidence in the case to determine how to handle the case,” Ryan said.
On Dec. 19, 2020, a 911 call brought Montrose County Sheriff’s Office deputies and medical services to a home on Shavano Valley Road, where they found Keefauver with a head injury, Lt. Ted Valerio said.
She was taken to Montrose Memorial Hospital, where she died.
The juvenile who was later identified as the suspect in her death was at the home and had placed the 911 call, Valerio said. The initial scene was chaotic and responders were trying to ensure everyone’s safety.
“Obviously, it was a very serious situation and we were trying to figure out what exactly had occurred. It was not clear at the time we arrived,” said Valerio.
With assistance from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, MCSO investigators worked to preserve the scene. “We had everyone hit the ground running. Agencies across the valley were alerted,” Valerio said.
As the investigation proceeded, doubts arose over what the juvenile said had happened. The child was charged with second-degree murder via a petition of delinquency on Dec. 31, and was being held at Grand Mesa Youth Services.
The matter is still being investigated and the CBI is processing evidence, Valerio said.
“Any new information that comes to us, we want to vet it and make sure we follow up on it. We want to make sure it’s a complete and fair investigation,” he said.
“It’s a tough deal for the whole family.”