Published: May 16, 2013
An Iraq War veteran-turned-motorcycle gang enforcer was sentenced Thursday to 21 years in prison in the slaying of an unarmed man who died in a hail of gunfire outside an outlaw motorcycle gang's Colorado Springs clubhouse.
Christopher Mountjoy, a hulking Fort Carson sergeant who moonlighted as "sergeant-at-arms" for the Sin City Disciples, accepted the maximum penalty in silence as family members gasped and shuffled in their seats.
To supporters of victim Virgil "Jason" Means, Thursday's sentence marked a small victory in a legal saga fraught with crushing disappointments.
"A little bit of justice was done," said Bonnie Fordyce, a family friend who said in court she attended most hearings in the case only to see three of the four people charged with first-degree murder end up with manslaughter convictions, a felony that normally results in a sentence of no more than six years.
The Sin City Disciples - they spell it "Sin City Deciples" - are a self-avowed "one-percenter" outlaw motorcycle gang similar to the Hell's Angels and Colorado's Sons of Silence. Their clubhouse in the 600 block of West Vermijo Avenue has played host to shootings, assaults, robberies and other gang-related activity, repeating a pattern seen at the gang's previous location on the city's southeast side.
In February, the City Attorney's Office said the clubhouse is the focus of "ongoing investigation" that will determine if the city takes action against it. An update wasn't immediately available Thursday.
Six men were charged in Means' death, two as accessories. At least four were Fort Carson soldiers who ignored a ban on joining the group. Two of the defendants, including Mountjoy, dodged murder convictions at trials complicated by changing testimony by Sin City Disciples members, who pledge, "I am my brother's keeper."
Several witnesses associated with the group contradicted key details they previously supplied to police, walking back incriminating statements or claiming they didn't remember making them. At least two of them cited motorcycle crashes for their faltering memories.
Mountjoy, 32, was convicted in February of manslaughter, tampering with evidence and illegal discharge of a weapon.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Willaim Bain imposed sentences in the aggravated range on each count ? angering Mountjoy's supporters, who believed he faced no more than eight or nine years.
When the sentence was imposed, the victim's sister, Elizabeth White, buried her face in her hands, her body shaking with sobs.
Mountjoy's public defender, Cindy Hyatt, told Bain he would exceed his authority if he imposed an aggravated sentence because prosecutors didn't ask Mountjoy's jury to find aggravating circumstances in the case.
Hyatt and fellow public defender Karen Parrott left without comment, following a group of Mountjoy supporters who stormed out of court.
At trial, the defense argued that Mountjoy and two other men opened fire on a car occupied by Means and driver Mark Nadeau in the belief they were heading off an attack. In reality, Means and Nadeau were unarmed.
Testimony showed that Means had been violently tossed out of an after-hours party at the gang's clubhouse, 628 W. Vermijo St., and was returning in hopes of reclaiming a wallet that went missing during the ruckus.
Their Cadillac was fired upon seven seconds after it began driving away from the clubhouse - among the factors Judge Bain cited in justifying the aggravated sentencing. The judge also noted the gunfire could have hit Nadeau as well as drivers on a nearby stretch of Interstate 25 in downtown Colorado Springs.
In requesting the maximum penalties, lead prosecutor Laurel Huston pointed to the "dozens" of police calls to the Sin City Disciples clubhouse and argued that Mountjoy was a de facto leader of a dangerous group.
Mountjoy, who enlisted in the Army in 2001 at the age of 18, was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2005 and served in a combat role mainly in cities where heavy fighting occurred.
Even shackled, Mountjoy cut an imposing presence in court Thursday, with a shaven head and bulging biceps. His shoulders are so broad El Paso County sheriff's deputies had to use two pairs of interlocking handcuffs to link his wrists behind his back, and Mountjoy twisted the cuffs as he briefly apologized in court.
Hyatt said Mountjoy joined the club for a sense of "brotherhood" missing since he was moved out of the infantry and into a job as a cook after being injured in a mortar attack while serving in Iraq.
Mountjoy's mother, Kathleen Mountjoy, told the court her son was defending himself and his friends from a perceived threat, an argument jurors rejected. She said Colorado Springs police shouldn't allow after-hours parties like those at Sin City, and that Means knew the dangers when he attended a party at the clubhouse. Bain later disputed the assertions, telling Mountjoy that he, not Means, was to blame.
Marlon Means, the victim's brother, said their mother was too distraught to sit for Mountjoy's sentencing.
"My mother is strong," he said in a voice choked with emotion. "I saw my mother raise five kids on five dollars."
Fordyce, the family friend who addressed the court on Means' mother's behalf, complained that Means' killers would be punished far less severely than two burglars recently convicted of stealing $3,000 worth of property from the Mountain Shadows home of a couple who had fled the Waldo Canyon fire.
In that case, which involved lengthy criminal histories for both defendants, one burglar received 48 years. The other got 72 years.
"My brother can't get up and walk out of the grave," White said, noting that while Means was also veteran, he "served his community" after getting out of the service rather than joining a motorcycle gang.
The Sin City Disciples clubhouse has no liquor license, but hosts private parties when the bars close at 2 a.m., charging admission at the door.
After back-to-back murder acquittals for Mountjoy and John "Showtime" Burrell, prosecutors cut a deal for a third man charged with murder, Eric Bartholomew, agreeing to dismiss the murder count in exchange for a guilty plea to manslaughter. A fourth defendant, Carlos Ford, remains charged with first-degree murder. In a twist, he will stand trial in July not only in Means' death, but for an unrelated killing in which he is also accused of first-degree murder.
Bartholomew and Burrell are to be sentenced Aug. 29.