Thursday, January 24, 2013

Life in prison for murder of Great-Grandparents

By Will Bublitz

Eighteen-year-old Gregory Smith was sentenced to life in prison last week for the March 2011 shotgun murders of his great-grandparents in their home near Hugo.

Judge Jeffrey Holmes handed down the sentence of life in prison to Smith in the District Court at the Lincoln County Courthouse last Wednesday, Jan. 16. Smith was convicted on one count of Murder in the First Degree. He will not be eligible to apply for parole until 2050.

Smith, who was 17 years old at the time of the murders, had been living with his great-grandparents, Laura Clagett, 82, and Charles “Chuck” Clagett, 80, at their ranch home on County Road 29. He murdered them with a .410 bore shotgun while they slept in bed on the evening of March 27, 2011.

District Attorney George Brauchler of the 18th Judicial District expressed satisfaction with Wednesday’s sentence.

“Justice is served in Lincoln County today, because Gregory Smith has been held accountable for the brutal murder of his elderly relatives who cared and provided for him,” Brauchler said. “Youth is no defense for homicidal acts of this kind.”

According to the DA’s Office, a plea bargain agreement in the case was reached last fall with Smith entering a guilty plea on November 26, 2012. The plea agreement eliminated the need for a trial, which had been scheduled to begin January 22, 2013 at the Elbert County Courthouse in Kiowa.

The DA’s Office said that part of the evidence against Smith was that he had taken “pictures of his crime.” Investigators found the photographs during a search of his belongings after his arrest. 

The discovery of the murders was made after local law enforcement officers responded to the report of an rollover accident on County Road 2W in the early morning of Wednesday, March 30, 2011.

Arriving at the crash scene, they found Smith injured and trapped inside an overturned pickup truck. The accident had occurred because Smith, who had a learner’s permit, had apparently lost control of the vehicle as he was driving down the roadway.

After Smith was evacuated by ambulance, officers searched the pickup. Suspicions were immediately raised when they discovered thousands of dollars in cash inside the vehicle.

After learning the pickup was registered to the Clagetts, the officers first attempted to contact them by telephone but received no answer. Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Nestor and two Colorado State Troopers then drove to the Clagett home on County Road 29, about 1.3 miles from the accident scene.

Nestor and the State Troopers did not get any response to their repeated knocking on the door of the house. Contacting a relative of the Clagetts with a key, the officers then entered the two-story ranch house where discovered the bodies of Laura and Charles Clagett in a first-floor bedroom.

A crime scene investigation team from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation arrived at the Clagett home that evening. No evidence of a break-in was found.

After photographs and other evidence were collected, the the Lincoln County Coroner’s Office transported the bodies to Castle Rock for autopsies.

The Coroner’s Office said the Clagetts’ bodies were found in bed dressed in their sleeping clothes. Each of the victims was killed by separate blasts of a shotgun that was in near contact with their heads.

A forensic examination of the bodies determined the Clagetts had been killed Sunday evening, March 27.

Smith, who was an 11th grader at Genoa-Hugo High School in Hugo at the time of the murders, continued to attend his regular classes on Monday and Tuesday, March 28-29. Also a member of the high school’s baseball team, he played in a home game that Tuesday afternoon.

Investigators are uncertain whether Smith was again driving to school Wednesday morning, March 30 when the rollover accident occurred.

As a result of the preliminary investigation of the crime scene and an interview with Smith, the District Attorney’s Office decided to bring charges against him and he was taken into custody. On Friday, April 1, 2011, he appeared in the Lincoln County Court at Hugo where he was advised that two counts of Murder in the First Degree were being brought against him.

In a press release, the DA’s Office expressed its appreciation to those involved in the investigation that led to last week’s sentencing including Deputy Michael Yowell and other members of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Investigators from the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Deputy District Attorneys Brian Sugioka and Jim Bartkus prosecuted the case on behalf of the District Attorney.

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