Thursday, 26 May 2022

2 teens suspected of killing 5 in Denver arson to be tried as adults

Two of the three teenagers charged with murder for allegedly setting a Denver home on fire and killing a family of five inside will be tried as adults, a judge ruled this week, noting the trauma inflicted on the community by the 2020 fire “defies comprehension.”

The cases against Kevin Bui and Gavin Seymour, both 17, will continue in adult court despite efforts by their attorneys to argue the cases should instead be tried in juvenile court. The case against the third suspect, who was 15 at the time of the crime and has not been publicly identified, remains in juvenile court.

Denver District Court Judge Martin Egelhoff ruled Tuesday that Bui’s and Seymour’s actions were so egregious they should be tried in adult court and face more severe punishment, despite the teens’ ages, lack of prior criminal record and good behavior in juvenile detention since their arrest.

“In a case such as this, where the result of the defendant’s conduct is the loss of not one but five human lives; the total destruction of the home of two families; and the devastation of multiple families and communities, both locally and abroad, the community has a legitimate and significant interest in the most severe and consequential punishment commensurate with the immeasurable harm occasioned by the defendants’ conduct,” Egelhoff wrote. “Indeed, in nearly 23 years as a judicial officer, this Court has not witnessed a case of such gravity, consequence and loss as that presented herein.”

The three teens set the Green Valley Ranch home on fire on Aug. 5, 2020, because Bui erroneously thought a person who stole his phone lived there and he wanted revenge, law enforcement officers said during a November court hearing. The teens bought masks to wear to hide their faces and splashed gasoline inside of the home before lighting it on fire, law enforcement officials testified.

Five family members died in the fire: 29-year-old Djibril Diol, 23-year-old Adja Diol, their 2-year-old daughter Khadija, 25-year-old Hassan Diol and her 6-month-old daughter, Hawa Baye.

“All five, immigrants from West Africa who were establishing happy and productive lives in the Denver community, tragically perished,” Egelhoff wrote in his order. “One of them was a 2-year-old child who died in her mother’s arm.”

Three others escaped by jumping out of the second story of the home.

Police arrested the teens Jan. 27, 2021, after a months-long investigation, and prosecutors filed 60 charges, including first-degree murder, against Bui and Seymour in Denver’s adult courts.

Colorado law allows prosecutors to charge teens as adults if the teen was at least 16 years old at the time of the alleged crime and if they are facing the most serious felonies. However, as in Bui and Seymour’s cases, defendants can ask the judge to send the case to juvenile court instead.

Charges against the third teen were filed in juvenile court because he was 15 at the time of the fire, though prosecutors could seek to move that case to adult court.

Bui was raised in a large and supportive family, Egelhoff wrote, and excelled in his schools’ gifted and talented academic programs. There is no evidence Bui had a mental health diagnosis prior to the alleged crime, the judge wrote. Egelhoff in his order did not discuss evidence in a federal gun and drug case against Bui’s sister that showed the teen helped his sister sell drugs.

Seymour was raised by a supportive mother and diagnosed with developmental delays at an early age, Egelhoff wrote. There’s no evidence that Seymour was diagnosed with any significant mental health needs prior to the alleged arson, the judge wrote.

Both boys have behaved well while incarcerated pending trial and have accessed programs available to them, Egelhoff wrote.

Despite the fact that Egelhoff wrote both teens could be best rehabilitated in juvenile detention, the judge decided that the teens’ actions deserved a harsher punishment than those available in juvenile court. Beyond the loss of five lives and the trauma inflicted upon the immediate survivors, the teens’ alleged actions terrified an entire community.

Juveniles convicted of first-degree murder in adult court receive a mandatory sentence of life with the possibility of parole and can be sentenced to the maximum allowed for all other counts. In juvenile court, however, the sentences for other charges are much shorter.

“The trauma of those five people as they tried to escape, and the fear and likely pain of their subsequent deaths, is beyond measure,” Egelhoff wrote. “The fear and trauma of those trying to effect their rescue, and the devastation and loss wrecked upon the close-knit community of immigrants in the wake of the catastrophe, defies comprehension.”

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