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Ex-soldier convicted in Colorado Springs road-rage shooting

November 16, 2017 Updated: November 17, 2017 at 8:29 am
photo - Khalil Sanders.
Khalil Sanders. 

Khalil Jamandre Sanders never denied that he shot a woman in the back during a road-rage clash in Colorado Springs.

But his claim that his victim should share in the blame for cutting him off was quickly rejected by an El Paso County jury, which convicted him of all counts Thursday.

After a three-day trial in 4th Judicial District Court, the nine-man, three-woman panel deliberated for just three hours before finding Sanders guilty.

Sanders, 24, faces up to 32 years in prison on the first-degree assault charge in the Feb. 2 attack that left a bullet lodged in victim Jamie Vasquez's spleen. He is due to be sentenced Jan. 30.

Attorneys for the 24-year-old ex-Fort Carson soldier argued that Sanders acted in the heat of passion after being repeatedly cut off by Vasquez, angling for a verdict that could have lowered his sentence on the top charge to six years.

"He did a terrible, terrible thing," said his attorney, public defender Jennifer Chu. "It was an overreaction - and that's exactly what heat of the passion is."

Prosecutors persuaded the panel that the traffic quarrel on Dublin Boulevard didn't justify Sanders' response.

Vasquez was hit by a .40-caliber bullet. Surgery removed the bullet and she has since recovered, but Vasquez skipped out on a subpoena to testify against the shooter, too traumatized to face her attacker, authorities said.

Another motorist who witnessed the quarrel on the city's north side corroborated portions of Sanders' account, testifying that Vasquez appeared to be the aggressor and repeatedly changed lanes to block Sanders' progress, coming within inches of his car each time.

During closing statements, prosecutor Ben Hostetter said that wasn't sufficient cause to shoot. He took aim at the heat-of-passion defense, arguing that Sanders had plenty of time to consider his actions.

Sanders kept on driving without calling for help after delivering a shot that pierced Vasquez's trunk and traveled through two sets of car seats before lodging in the woman's back.

"Then he went and had himself a burger," Hostetter said, noting that Sanders didn't tell friends about the confrontation when he met them afterward at Drifter's Hamburgers in north Colorado Springs.

At the time of the shooting, Sanders was on probation for a double-fatal crash in Colorado Springs that killed an elderly couple in Colorado Springs.

Taking the stand Thursday, the defendant described the 2012 crash as a tragic accident, claiming that he fell asleep behind the wheel while coming home from a shift at Fort Carson that kept him awake for 24 hours and that he pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide as a way of taking responsibility for his actions.

At times lowering his voice to a whisper, Sanders said the deadly crash colored his emotions during what he called a "frustrating" and "scary" experience of nearly being run into a drainage ditch by Vasquez's car.

He said he had no recollection of actually firing his gun, but acknowledged that prosecutors proved he had pulled the trigger. That marked an about-face from his earlier claims to police, when he denied under questioning that he had been in the area or that he was involved in a shooting, prosecutors said.

Among the evidence linking Sanders to the crime were the statements of a jailhouse informant who said Sanders confided his guilt while in custody. The informant said Sanders said the woman was lucky to be alive, and that he "bragged" he could credibly argue "heat of passion," prosecutors said.

If the jury had found he was motivated by a "serious and highly provoking act," Sanders would have faced 1-6 years on the assault charge instead of 10-32 years.

Testimony also focused on how the convicted felon came to be in possession of a firearm.

Sanders testified that he left the Army after the fatal crash and was hired as a security guard by Strategic Alliance Security Inc. of Colorado Springs, which he said required him to be armed. He said a co-worker supplied him with the pistol, but didn't provide that person's name. A phone call to the security company went unanswered Thursday, and an automated message said the company's voicemail was full.

Sanders said he was hired to perform security patrols at a large apartment complex and at various marijuana cultivation sites.

Sanders also pleaded guilty to weapons charges, averting what would have been a second trial. Any penalty he receives will run concurrently with his sentence in the shooting.

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