January 28, 2008
Some community fights go on and on, even when they appear to be over. One of the most bitter in the area, a 10-year battle between Manitou Springs and Stephen Beisel, looks poised to re-erupt after 16 months of calm.
It quieted down after a jury convicted Beisel of misdemeanor assault and harassment for allegedly shoving, slugging and throwing down Manitou City Councilman Marc Snyder in August 2005. El Paso County Judge Sylvia Manzanares gave Beisel 30 days in jail and probation. Manitou officials celebrated, describing Beisel as a “town bully” who had harassed and intimidated the City Council and everyone at City Hall during a decade-long dispute with the community. But now Beisel’s conviction is in question and may be overturned. District Attorney John Newsome has submitted a rare “confession of reversible error” to Judge Rebecca Bromley, who is hearing Beisel’s appeal. Seems Manzanares, who retired last May, failed to properly advise Beisel of his right to an attorney before the trial began — called an Arguello advisement. It’s similar to the “Miranda warning” made by police during every arrest, advising people of their rights. “Upon a review of the record, the district attorney agrees that there is no evidence that the trial judge properly advised the defendant of his right,” Newsome said in a brief prepared by deputy prosecutors Deborah Pearson and Doyle Baker. “It is extremely rare for the prosecution to concede reversible error in a criminal case,” said Beisel’s Castle Rock attorney, Anne Gill. She said Newsome’s office fessed up after she and Baker spent hours listening to audio of the trial. Not only was there no Arguello advisement, but much of the recording was inaudible, making it hard to write an appeal. Even worse, Gill said, the court had lost all the evidence presented during the two-day trial — further grounds for vacating the conviction. “I found none of the exhibits,” she said, listing missing photos, medical bills, police reports, witness statements. Gill said she would “never try to predict” Bromley’s response. But a prosecutor’s confession of reversible error is solid grounds for a new trial. “I think we have a good shot at a new trial,” she said. And if Beisel gets another shot, don’t expect him to plea bargain the charges away. “Mr. Beisel does maintain his innocence and feels quite strongly about that,” Gill said. “He believes he’d be completely vindicated if he went through another trial.” Newsome’s spokeswoman Denise Minish described the confession as the “responsible thing to do.” “The best thing to do is get the case back where it belongs and set for retrial,” she said. A decade ago, Beisel angered Manitou officials by trying to develop 70 acres he owns on Sheep Mountain, adjacent to the town’s southern border. The town blocked him, Beisel says illegally, saying his plans would ruin the town’s scenic mountain backdrop. Beisel responded by blocking a trail across his land and citing trespassers. He says the spat with Snyder was the result of trespassing, which Snyder denies. Here we go again. Tell me about your neighborhood: 636-0193 or email@example.com