F ormer Palmer High School student Simon Ewing Sue, 21, was sentenced on Tuesday to three 45-year terms to be served concurrently, for conspiracy to commit murder in the triple slaying that took the lives of Tony Dutcher, 15, Carl Dutcher, 60, and Joanna Dutcher, 58, on Dec. 31, 1999.
Sue was also sentenced to a consecutive term of eight years for violating Colorado's organized crime laws.
Sue was arrested in April 2001, after being named by codefendant Isaac Grimes, also a former Palmer student, as the mastermind of the murders that took place in the rural community of Guffey, an hour west of Colorado Springs. The boys, along with Palmer students Jonathan Matheny and Glen Urban, were members of a paramilitary organization called the OARA (Operations and Reconnaissance Agents), a group Sue now admits he made up.
"It was a scheme I made up to get money out of these guys," said Sue in a pre-sentencing interview with prosecutors and investigators from the 11th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
As OARA members, Grimes, Matheny and Sue participated in burglaries in Colorado Springs, stealing guns from the home of former friend Gabe Melchior; planned and executed the "raid" on the Dutchers; and were reportedly deeply involved in quasi-military training with automatic weapons.
Sue's alleged purpose for securing weapons was to send them to revolutionary forces in Guyana, his family's home country -- a scheme now apparently debunked.
'Nothin more than a Jim Jones'
The scene in the courtroom was emotionally charged as Charles Dutcher, father of Tony and son of Joanna and Carl, offered his assessment of the defendant.
"This kid is nothin' more than a Jim Jones, a Charlie Manson," said Dutcher. "Y'all better never let this kid out of prison."
But the tone shifted as defense attorney Ann Kaufman questioned a string of family members, mentors and friends of Simon Sue, each attesting to the young man's engaging personality, strong work ethic, loving personality and community mindedness.
Among the character witnesses who took the stand were Thomas Hallenbeck, owner of a coin gallery in Colorado Springs and assistant treasurer of the American Numismatic Society; former Palmer substitute teacher Rose Trigg; Palmer math teacher Keith Smith; and Air Force Academy cadet David Goodale, a chess partner of Sue's who competed with him in national tournaments and tutored with him at the Hillside Community Center.
Sue's brothers, Marlon Jagnanon, a third-year law student at Denver University, and Brian Sue, an active-duty Air Force staff sergeant, each said Simon had spoken to them and expressed his extreme remorse for all that he had done.
Kaufman painted Sue as someone who had taken responsibility for burglary and deception, and who fully admitted aiding in the cover-up of the Dutcher murders and providing alibis for Grimes and Matheny.
"He said some bad things about himself," she said. "He didn't sugarcoat the things he did."
But Sue, Kaufman went on to say, never participated in specific plans to kill the Dutchers.
"I think it's true that Mr. Sue never did a bad thing in his life before making up the OARA," she said.
Two Simon Sues
Prosecutors relied heavily on the February 2003 pre-sentencing interview with Sue, giving a PowerPoint presentation of highlights of the interview.
Regarding threats that Sue was previously accused of making on the life of Isaac Grimes, Sue admitted, "I told him that if he ever crosses the line with us that I could kill him."
And referring to a conversation with Jonathan Matheny prior to the raid on the Dutchers, originally a plan to steal guns, Sue said, "Yes, if there's anyone involved that gets in your way, yes, you'll have to kill them."
At the end of the hearing, a frail looking, hunched over Sue addressed the judge.
"I stand here in shame. I've deeply disgraced my family," he said. "I'm terribly sorry. I've ruined many lives. I've failed everyone."
Judge Kenneth Plotz expressed deep sadness before handing down the 53-year sentence.
"No reasonable explanation has been provided from anyone to explain what happened," said Plotz. "What went on in your mind to allow this to happen, much less to engineer it? What cause was advanced? Why? What did you get out of this?
"I believe that there are indeed two Simon Sues in this world," Plotz concluded, "including the Simon Sue that conspired to kill three innocent people."
Isaac Grimes is currently serving a 60-year sentence in adult prison, and co-defendant Jonathan Matheny's trial is set to begin Nov. 10 in Salida.
-- Kathryn Eastburn