He was a former university administrator driven by addiction into the company of dropouts.
But according to prosecutors, ex-University of Phoenix official Michael Berkowitz was a quick study when it came to Colorado Springs’ hard-drug culture – resorting to kidnapping and murder when he got ripped off.
Berkowitz, 62, faces the potential of life in prison in the June 30, 2011, slaying of Matthew Moore of Colorado Springs.
Moore, 27, was a decorated Iraq War veteran who authorities say was shot twice in the back on an Ivywild neighborhood street while trying to escape Berkowitz and his alleged accomplice, 24-year-old Rodrigo Rubio.
Investigators say the pair abducted Moore from the Sun Springs Motel on South Nevada Avenue in hopes he could lead them to drug dealers who ripped them off in the motel parking lot earlier that day — selling Rubio $500 worth of dirt instead of heroin.
Although prosecutors allege Rubio was the shooter, Berkowitz was charged with first-degree murder under the theory he should share responsibility for participating in an abduction that led to a man’s death.
During opening statements Tuesday, Berkowitz’s defense attorney Sarah Christensen told jurors they would hear plenty of evidence about Berkowitz’s debilitating heroin addiction, including how police questioned him through a painful withdrawal until he falsely accused Rodrigo of abducting Moore at gunpoint.
But, Christensen said, the only three eyewitnesses to the alleged abduction will testify that Moore willingly accompanied the men — meaning Berkowitz shouldn’t be punished for another man’s sudden act of violence.
Prosecutor Bryan Gogarty said Berkowitz used heroin to treat back pain. Because drug dealers tended to believe Berkowitz was a cop, Gogarty said, he recruited Rubio as a runner to procure his heroin.
Gogarty said that while Berkowitz didn’t pull the trigger, he drove his Jeep while Rubio held Moore at gunpoint — and helped the younger man get rid of the murder weapon and escape Colorado Springs. Rubio was later arrested in Phoenix and is awaiting trial on murder and kidnapping charges.
Berkowitz and Rubio are being held without bond in the El Paso County jail.
Berkowitz is a former director of online enrollment for Phoenix University, a for-profit university.
He previously worked at Colorado Technical University, which has a campus in Colorado Springs, and owned a jewelry store in Aspen. CTU officials couldn’t be reached for details of Berkowitz’s employment.
His trial began Monday in front of 4th Judicial District Judge David L. Shakes and is expected to last two weeks.
The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel
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