Judge reduces Grimes' sentence in Guffey killings

The Gazette - Colorado Springs/December 28, 2004
By Deedee Correll

Fairplay -- The teenager who slit his best friend's throat shouldn't spend more time in prison than the ringleader who ordered the killing, a judge decided Monday.

Judge Kenneth Plotz lopped 10 years off the 60-year sentence he gave Isaac Grimes nearly two years ago for the New Year's Eve 2000 slaying of a Palmer High School student and his grandparents in Guffey.

"You were the youngest defendant, the most contrite. You were first to confess; you aided police. You should be the defendant that receives the lowest sentence," Plotz said. "I realize I made a mistake in sentencing you to more time than (ringleader) Simon Sue."

Plotz sentenced Sue last year to 53 years in prison.

The judge, however, rejected Grimes' argument that he deserved mercy because he was so brainwashed by Sue's cultlike group and so fearful that Sue would kill his family that he dared not disobey.

"All the evidence about cult behavior doesn't excuse or forgive personal responsibility in any way," Plotz said. "If it did, anyone could take a life, then expect leniency because they could claim they were a cult member."

Tony Dutcher, 15, and his grandparents, Carl and JoAnna Dutcher, were found slain at the grandparents' home 55 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. Dutcher's throat was cut, and his grandparents had been shot.

Dutcher and Grimes were best friends during their freshman year at Palmer High School before Grimes became involved in a secret paramilitary group, the Operation and Reconnaissance Agents, led by Sue. Authorities said Sue ordered the triple homicide to ensure Grimes' loyalty to the group. The crimes went unsolved for several months, until Grimes confessed to killing Tony Dutcher.

Authorities think another member of the group, Jonathan Matheny, killed the grandparents. Matheny pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit first-degree murder and violating Colorado's organized crime law; he was sentenced last year to 68 years in prison.

"Show mercy on our son," Grimes' father, Rob Grimes, said Monday at the sentencereduction hearing.

Although his son did unspeakable things, he said, "he was bound by evil."

That evil was Sue, who drew a vulnerable boy without social skills into a cult, attorney Dale Parrish argued. Grimes was "booksmart" but lacked common sense and didn't make friends easily, his father said. In fact, Dutcher was his only friend until Sue and Matheny befriended him later that year.

Once Grimes became a member, Sue tried to brainwash him by threatening to kill him and his family, forcing him to turn over the money he earned at Carl's Jr. and requiring him to watch vicious videos to desensitize him to violence, according to statements in court.

The group had all the characteristics of a cult, and its leader practiced mind-control techniques on its members, said Cathleen Mann, a Lakewood cult expert and counselor who testified on Grimes' behalf.

She said Grimes, whom she described as intelligent but socially delayed, didn't recognize the group for what it was.

Grimes may be intelligent, but smart people actually may be more vulnerable to such influences, particularly if they're socially delayed as she said Grimes was. "When he did have moments of clarity, he didn't know how to get out," Mann said.

Grimes became convinced that Sue would kill his parents and him if he didn't obey orders, Parrish said.

"He sincerely believed his family would be killed if he didn't cooperate," said Parrish, who likened the group to cults commanded by Charles Manson and Jim Jones, who ordered hundreds of followers to commit suicide in Guyana 20 years ago. Sue is from Guyana.

Grimes made many of his own choices, prosecutor Sean Paris said. The teenager once was left in charge of the gang while Sue was gone. He was the one who selected the Dutcher family as targets, and he attacked Dutcher with such "enthusiasm and zeal" that he nearly decapitated Dutcher as he lay in his sleeping bag.

"The level of betrayal is beyond words," he said.

Grimes' mother, Donna Grimes, said her son was betrayed by prosecutors after he helped them solve the case. She also emphasized she and her husband weren't consulted before their son's attorneys struck a deal with the district attorney.

Now, she said, her son is dealing with a place he may not survive.

"I know him, and he's not hard inside. He's soft inside, and that's why he won't live in prison," Donna Grimes said.

Grimes was the youngest inmate in the state prison system when he entered prison at age 16. He lives in a segregated unit at San Carlos Correctional Facility, locked in his cell for 23 hours a day. The segregation is intended to protect him from other inmates. His case manager has said she believes he will be raped or killed when he's placed in the general population, Parrish said.

The dilemma, he said, is that as long as he remains in a segregated unit, he can't earn time off his sentence.

Grimes spoke at the hearing, saying the only truly fair punishment for what he did is death.

"I would deserve it," he said, in a deep voice that belied his still-babyish face.

Still, he asked Plotz to allow him to go home.

"Send me home. Wrap me up with any restrictions you like, and I'll do it," he said.

"I'm so sorry these horrible things happened."

That phrase shows how Grimes distances himself from the crime, instead of saying he committed a horrible crime, Plotz said.

"You distance yourself from the act," he said. "The act you committed was a very personal thing. I can't look at it any other way."

Plotz said the possibility of harm to Grimes concerns him, but he can't control whether Grimes is safe in prison.

Grimes may not ask for a sentence reduction again, but Parrish said he's looking into other issues, including whether Grimes' first attorneys represented him properly.

"We're not done," Donna Grimes said.

Members of the Dutcher family didn't attend the hearing.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.