Murder charge dropped in Elbert County teacher death case

Shifting confessions didn't match evidence in 2010 mystery

Posted 12/7/18

Nearly a year after he was booked into the Elbert County Jail, a judge on Dec. 3 dismissed the murder charge against the suspect in the death of Kiowa teacher Randy Wilson. The dismissal came at the …

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Murder charge dropped in Elbert County teacher death case

Shifting confessions didn't match evidence in 2010 mystery

Posted
Nearly a year after he was booked into the Elbert County Jail, the suspect in the cold-case death of Kiowa teacher Randy Wilson saw the murder charge against him dismissed on Dec. 3.
 
The dismissal came at the request of prosecutors, who said they no longer believed they could convince a jury that Dan Pesch was guilty.
 
Though Pesch confessed to the murder many times in the months leading up to his December 2017 arrest, he later said he was lying, driven by substance abuse and mental illness.
 
Pesch wasn't going anywhere yet, though. Following the dismissal of the murder case, he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempted escape, incurred when he tried to break free from officers outside the jail when he was arrested in 2017.
Judge Gary Kramer set Pesch's bond on the attempted-escape charge at $10,000, with a sentencing scheduled for Feb. 4, and Pesch continued to be held in custody. The crime carries a presumptive sentence of one to four years of incarceration, Kramer said.
 
District Attorney George Brauchler, who oversees the 18th Judicial District, which prosecuted the case, called the situation frustrating, because he believes Wilson's killer is still unknown.
 
“Someone out there hasn't been held accountable,” Brauchler said by phone two days after the murder charge was dismissed in court. “I want to bring justice on behalf of Mr. Wilson and his family, and that hasn't been done yet.”
 
The dismissal of the murder charge followed a year that saw the case against Pesch unravel, as mounting evidence suggested he had nothing to do with Wilson's death.
 
Wilson, who was 52 when he died, was found dead at a country crossroads north of Kiowa in June 2010. He had a bag over his head, a belt around his neck and his hands were bound behind his back. His wallet was never found and his credit cards were never used after his death.
 
Wilson's family declined to comment for this article.
 
No arrests were made in the case until that of Pesch on Dec. 18, 2017. Pesch, then 34, was a longtime Summit County resident, but had been living in the Littleton area when he was arrested.
 
Documents in the case were immediately sealed by a judge, and little was known about the case until May 2018, when a bombshell hearing revealed that the case against Pesch was based on little more than his strange, ever-changing confessions.
 
Pesch's account of the murder didn't match physical evidence in the case. His DNA was not found on items of evidence, and his adoptive father testified that a paper log of trail rides at the family's western Colorado ranch placed Pesch more than five hours' driving time from the time and place of Wilson's death.
 
Pesch has a history of falsely confessing to crimes, according to police records, his friends, his family members and Pesch himself.
 
Pesch's mental state became more apparent during his time in custody, according to the prosecution's dismissal filing.
 
“Mr. Pesch's mental health history is extensive, concerning, and complicated,” the filing reads, in part. “Mr. Pesch's characteristics are correlative with other individuals who make voluntary false confessions … Mr. Pesch has a significant history of claiming ailments or reporting conduct that did not exist, or at least, did not genuinely involve him … This evidence raises the difficult question of assessing the credibility of Mr. Pesch's own words — the primary, and indeed, the only substantial evidence of his guilt in this case.”
 
In a September phone interview with Colorado Community Media, Pesch gave rambling explanations for his confessions, citing suicidal depression, heavy drinking and trouble at work and home. But he got pleasure from toying with police, he said.
 
“I was enjoying playing this game of cat-and-mouse,” Pesch said.
 
Brauchler said there was additional evidence against Pesch that persuaded him to pursue Pesch's prosecution for nearly a year, though he declined to say what it was.
 
“Not all of the evidence that was available to us in the past is available to us today,” Brauchler said. “There are witness statements we have now, from witnesses that aren't available to us anymore. Without them, we're limited to the confession, and that's not enough.”
 
Brauchler said he was unaware of Pesch's confessions to Wilson's death until after Pesch was arrested, but said he wasn't sure if anyone else in his office had been involved in the investigation during Pesch's months of contact with Elbert County investigators.
 
Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap, who arrested Pesch, testified in May that he was unfamiliar with Wilson's autopsy report and with DNA test results on evidence, and had not read the district attorney's report in the death before making the arrest. Heap did not respond to an interview request.
 
Brauchler emphasized that he is not willing to call Pesch's confessions false, saying that without incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, they are simply insufficient to convince a jury of his guilt.
 
Brauchler said he remains convinced that Wilson's death was a murder, not an elaborately staged suicide, as implied by Pesch's defense attorneys.
 
“We're going to continue to look for ways to get justice in this case,” Brauchler said. “This isn't over.”

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