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Colorado Springs man convicted in connection to 2013 death investigation

By: April Nowicki Special to The Gazette
June 13, 2015 Updated: July 7, 2015 at 2:51 pm
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A Colorado Springs man was recently convicted of tampering with evidence in a 2013 death investigation that has taken some unusual turns, and a second man will go to trial next month on the same charges.

Stephen Barker, 20, and Damian Johnston, 22, each were charged with tampering with evidence, prohibited use of a weapon and theft of items and cash worth $50 to $300.

The two men were tracked down through phone records months after the death of Jeremiah Mieir, 26, who was found shot to death in his Colorado Springs apartment on Oct. 8, 2013. No gun was found in the apartment, and the El Paso County coroner listed the manner of death as "undetermined."

According to the arrest affidavit, Barker and Johnston told police that they were present when Mieir shot himself with a gun Barker had brought to the apartment.

The two told police that they got rid of the gun right after Mieir died and didn't try to get in touch with authorities, the affidavit said.

Johnston was convicted last week of all charges, and sentencing was set for Aug. 3, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office said. Barker's trial is scheduled for July 7.

On Nov. 26 - more than a year after Mieir's death - the manner of death was changed to suicide. No other changes were made to the report indicating why the change was made.

Dr. Robert Bux, El Paso County coroner, said that the change resulted from additional information gathered in the investigation by the Colorado Springs Police Department.

"I received additional information in the form of statements given to the Colorado Springs Police Department, from people who were there at the time of death," Bux said. "How I look at it is, when somebody makes a statement, it is true. If it later proves not to be true, then I'll look at (the case) again."

Kimberly Curtis, Mieir's mother, has repeatedly pushed for more investigation into her son's death.

"I still don't believe Jeremiah killed himself," she said. "Why would (Barker) discard his own weapon unless he was guilty of something?"

Curtis said she asked Colorado Springs police detective Jerry Schiffelbein, the lead investigator on Mieir's case, if the gunshot residue test kits collected from her son's hands would be analyzed to potentially prove that he shot the gun himself. Curtis said Schiffelbein told her, "this isn't TV" and indicated that the test kits would not be analyzed. Bux said that suicide gunshot residue test kits are routinely collected and kept as evidence, but not analyzed for particles.

According to the affidavit written by Schiffelbein, Barker and Johnston said they were at Meier's apartment on the night of Oct. 7, 2013, smoking marijuana and drinking. Barker told the detective that he brought a gun with him that night.

"Stephen Barker went on to say that after being at the residence of Jeremiah Mieir for a couple of hours, Jeremiah Mieir picked up the gun (Barker) had brought to the apartment, put it in his mouth, and shot himself," Schiffelbein wrote in the affidavit.

Johnston told the detective that he was in the bathroom at the time. The affidavit says Johnston and Barker "panicked and did a 'two-minute clean'" of the apartment and left in a hurry, taking things they had touched with them, including the gun, marijuana, liquor and Mieir's cellphone.

Barker, under the legal drinking age at the time of Mieir's death, told the detective that he expected to be sentenced to time in jail if he was caught in possession of a gun while he was drunk. He stated that he "disassembled the gun and disposed of it in various locations around town," and did the same with Mieir's phone.

Johnston said it was he who took the gun apart, and that the two drove around together disposing of the pieces after they left Mieir's apartment, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit does not indicate if Barker confirmed that the firearm was a .22 caliber pistol as stated in the police incident report.

"Neither Stephen Barker or Damian Johnston made any attempts to contact law enforcement about the death of Jeremiah Mieir, and were not determined to have been present inside the apartment with Jeremiah Mieir until approximately eight months later," Detective Schiffelbein wrote in the affidavit. "The gun, cellular telephone, and other items taken from the apartment by Barker and Johnston were never located or recovered by law enforcement."

Curtis found her son the day after he died. She said she called Schiffelbein multiple times in the weeks afterward to get updates on the investigation into her son's death. She had copies of her son's cellphone records and wanted to give them to the detective.

"I would never get a call back," Curtis said. "I called and my friends called and we would never get a call back. I eventually gave up."

Mieir's case was closed two months after his death, according to the police incident report, stating that "Kimberly Delgado (Curtis), the mother of Jeremiah Mieir, has failed to provide the requested cellphone records for Jeremiah Mieir that (detective Schiffelbein) had requested. There is no information as to whom Jeremiah Mieir may have been with at the time of his death."

After the CU News Corps began investigating the death in conjunction with a project on gun deaths in Colorado, Schiffelbein reconnected with Curtis, obtained the cellphone records and reopened the investigation.

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