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Disciples member eludes top charge in Sin City slaying

By: LANCE BENZEL
April 15, 2013
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photo - John Burrell Photo by
John Burrell Photo by  

For the second time this year, a Sin City Disciples motorcycle club member eluded a murder conviction in a March 2012 slaying in Colorado Springs.

A jury on Monday instead found 28-year-old John Burrell guilty of manslaughter — a lower charge meaning jurors concluded the victim, Virgil Means, died as a result of recklessness rather than premeditation.

Means, 31, was a passenger in a fleeing Cadillac when he was shot in the back amid a hail of gunfire on March 3, 2012, outside the motorcycle group’s Colorado Springs clubhouse, 628 W. Vermijo St.

Police say he had been tossed out of the club after a fight shortly before the attack and was returning for a missing wallet.

While a first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence without parole, manslaughter is generally punishable by up to six years in prison, although the penalty can be doubled under certain circumstances.

Burrell is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 29 at a hearing before 4th Judicial District Judge William Bain. He also was convicted of tampering with evidence and illegal discharge of a firearm.

Prosecutors weren’t immediately available to discuss the verdict.

Burrell, a Fort Carson sergeant and Iraq War veteran, was among six men charged in what prosecutors have characterized as an ambush-style slaying. All were members or associates of the so-called “one percenter” outlaw biker gang similar to the Hell’s Angels or Colorado’s Sons of Silence.

Four of the men were charged with first-degree murder, accused either of firing weapons at the Cadillac or of driving vehicles police say were used to provide cover during the apparently coordinated maneuver.

Burrell’s attorney, Michael Meyrich of Denver, argued at trial that his client fired in self-defense believing the car had returned for revenge.

A Fort Carson sergeant who had deployed to Iraq three times, Burrell acted on instinct, Meyrich added. He is no longer a member of the club.

“I think it’s a just verdict under the circumstances,” he said. “I really feel for the family of Mr. Means.”

The victim’s mother and sister left the courthouse without comment.

The manslaughter verdict marks the second time a jury has rejected first-degree murder charges in the slaying.

In February, a different jury handed up a manslaughter conviction against Christopher Mountjoy, who was accused of firing the fatal bullet. Like Burrell, Mountjoy was a Fort Carson sergeant and Iraq War veteran whose attorneys argued self-defense.

According to police, Means and the Cadillac’s driver were unarmed.

Two other Sin City associates are awaiting first-degree murder trials. They are Eric Bartholomew, 23, scheduled for April 25, and Carlos Ford, 30, scheduled for July 5. Two other men pleaded guilty to misdemeanors last year under plea deals requiring their cooperation in the case.

Although the Sin City Disciples have no liquor license, they host after-hours parties where revelers can pay a cover-fee to get in after bars close. Police have reported numerous shootings and disturbances at the club.

Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel

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