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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

Colorado’s rock-hurling killers must be locked up for as long as possible

Alexa Bartell died a needless and terrible death when a landscaping rock thrown by three 18-year-old men crashed through her windshield and struck her in the head. The men accused of killing her had no regard for her life — or apparently most other human life — and should spend the rest of theirs in prison.

The initial reports were haunting. Bartell had been talking to a friend on the phone as she drove. In an instant the line went dead. In an act of care and concern that stands in stark contrast to those of her killers, the friend used a tracking app to locate Bartell.

It makes me shiver to think what Bartell’s friend found.

It chills me to the core to think about the motive — or lack thereof — that led to her death. They allegedly stole landscaping rocks from a Walmart parking lot and drove around intentionally targeting other motorists in the Standley Lake / Rocky Flats region for an hour before they finally succeeded in killing Bartell.

While I originally hoped they had just exercised poor judgment trying to make cars swerve or hit the brakes, their statements since have belied that faint mitigating hope. The statements suggest they wanted to cause chaos and harm. They were intent on destruction. They had no goal but to cause wreckage. And wreckage is exactly what they left behind.

The wreckage of Bartell’s car. The wreckage of a full life the 20-year-old woman had just begun to lead. The wreckage of a friend who found her and the wreckage of a family left in pain and angst that will never leave them.

The wreckage of a community faced with loss of life solely as a form of entertainment to three men.

Their statements since being apprehended proved how profound their indifference to human life ran. After the rock they hurled at Bartell killed her and caused her car to crash off the roadway, they turned around to return to the scene.

But they were not suddenly shocked into checking on her welfare or calling for emergency help. They did not come to the sudden realization that their late-night game had gone much further than they could have imagined.

No. They turned around because they wanted a picture; they wanted a “memento” of the occasion, to use one suspect’s words.

The Colorado first-degree murder statute characterizes that callous evil as “extreme indifference to the value of human life generally.” Prosecutors must only prove that these men knowingly engaged in conduct that created a grave risk of death to someone else. This should be a slam dunk case.

The real question will be whether any plea deals are offered and how many years each assailant will spend in prison. I hope the answer to the first question is no and the second is as many as possible. Given the utter lack of remorse shown in the aftermath, both seem to be good bets.

Beyond getting a good photo of Bartell’s mangled car and her body within, in the immediate aftermath the three seemed interested only in getting their stories straight and covering up their misdeeds.

Unfortunately for them, they were both stupid killers and far less brave than they maybe believed. Law enforcement caught them in less than a week and at least two confessed almost immediately upon arrest.

My guess is the life of Bartell was more valuable than the three of theirs put together.

I have driven the roads they terrorized many times in my life. Coming home from CU Boulder, I have always driven along Highway 93. Going to my best friend’s family home in Arvada, we would use Indiana Street. I know that stretch of road well, and at night it is dark and desolate. Bartell never had a chance to see impending death or evade the rock hurled at her.

She died in that darkness. Her killers should be kept from the light outside a prison cell for decades to come.

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