A surprise move in the defense of a Colorado Springs youth who has been held for nearly two years in the Park County Jail in Fairplay, Colo. has ended in a plea of guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree.
Simon Ewing Sue, 21, entered the Fairplay courthouse on Tuesday looking gaunt and thin. Just a little over 5-feet tall, the former Palmer High School student looked like a boy of 14, his large brown eyes roaming the sparsely populated courtroom for familiar faces.
Sue was arrested in April 2001, after he was named by co-defendant Isaac Grimes, also a former Palmer student, as the mastermind of a triple murder that took the lives of Park County residents Joanna Dutcher, 58, her husband Carl Dutcher, 60, and their grandson Tony Dutcher, 15. The Dutchers' bodies were found at their remote, rural home near Guffey just after New Years Day, though the murders occurred in the post-midnight hours of Dec. 31.
Tony was killed by a knife to the throat in a lean-to he often camped in just 400 yards from the family home. Inside the main house, his grandparents were both shot multiple times.
Missing from the house were two of many guns the Dutchers kept on hand. Previous court testimony by one of the investigators indicated that there were as many as 13 loaded handguns in Carl Dutcher's bedroom alone.
When investigators from the 11th Judicial District Attorney's office questioned Grimes, who had been a close friend of Tony Dutcher, for a second time in March of 2001, the 15-year-old confessed to murdering Tony and unleashed a story so bizarre that many thought it unbelievable.
Guns, guns and more guns
Simon Sue, said Grimes, headed a paramilitary organization dubbed OARA (Operations and Reconnaissance Agents) that Sue claimed was associated with political forces in his family's homeland of Guyana. For months Grimes and fellow Palmer student Jonathan Matheny, had, under Sue's direction, trained in guerilla tactics, learning how to handle automatic weapons, how to sneak up on motion detector lights and how to break and enter a home.
Eventually, said Grimes, Sue ordered a burglary at the Dutcher's home and a hit on the Dutcher family. On Dec. 31, Grimes said, he cut Tony Dutcher's throat then witnessed the execution of Carl and Joanna by Jon Matheny.
All three murders and the theft of two guns, he said, happened under the direct order and supervision of Sue who, at the time, was visiting family in Canada.
Additionally, with the help of another OARA recruit, Palmer High School senior Glen Urban, the boys destroyed and disposed of the murder weapons and created an alibi that would deflect suspicion by law enforcement should any of them be questioned. That alibi and directions on destroying evidence, said both Grimes and Urban in subsequent interviews and in court testimony, were dictated by Sue.
Urban eventually accepted a plea bargain as an accessory to the crimes in exchange for his testimony against the others. He was sentenced to two years in community corrections.
Grimes, after confessing, led investigators to the home of Keith Sue, Simon's father, in search of the stolen weapons. A search warrant affidavit revealed that in addition to the two guns stolen from the Dutchers, some 40 other guns were removed from the Sue home, including Norinco, Russian and Chinese SKS machine guns and an Uzi 9mm.
At Tuesday's plea hearing in Fairplay, District Attorney David Thorson represented the prosecution, asking Judge Kenneth Plotz to accept the plea agreement that his office and Sue's defense attorneys, Ann Kaufman and Rick Levinson of Colorado Springs, had drafted.
The agreement stated that Simon Sue would plead guilty to three charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and to violation of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act. As a condition of the agreement, Sue would promise to cooperate fully in the continuing investigation of the Dutcher homicides and the OARA, and would agree to testify in the upcoming trial of his co-defendant Jonathan Matheny.
The defense and the district attorneys stipulated that Sue's total sentence to the Colorado Department of Correction would be no less than 40 years plus five years of parole and would not exceed 60 years plus five years of parole.
District Attorney Thorson asked that language be included in the conspiracy charge that indicated "extreme indifference to human life" and "universal malice" on the part of the defendant. Placing that in context, Thorson explained: "Mr. Sue said he did direct that burglary [of the Dutchers] to take place, and that if anyone got in the way, they should be killed."
Plotz carefully questioned Sue, asking if he understood that by pleading guilty he waived his right to a jury trial, his right to testify or to remain silent, and his right to appeal.
To each question, Sue quietly answered, "Yes."
"How do you wish to plead?" asked Plotz.
Sue glanced at his attorney briefly, then looked back at the judge. "Guilty," he said.
Last March, Isaac Grimes pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder and two counts of conspiracy, and was sentenced to 60 years in adult prison. Later that year, he provided testimony in a preliminary hearing for Sue that had far-reaching implications.
Under questioning by prosecutors, Grimes said that he was coerced, threatened and tortured by Sue, and acted under fear of retribution to both himself and his family if he didn't follow Sue's orders.
In previous interviews with investigators and defense attorneys, Grimes said Sue had held a gun to his head, had set up sniper points around his family's home, had slashed his sister's tires in the driveway of their home and had described in great detail exactly how his family would be executed if he didn't obey orders.
Over the past two years, Sue has maintained his innocence, and his defense attorneys tried numerous times to invalidate Grimes' stories. But Glen Urban, in court testimony and in numerous interviews with investigators, corroborated Grimes' version of the events leading up to and following the Dutchers' deaths, describing Sue as a tyrant and a genuine threat.
Several pieces of evidence in the court files were particularly damning to Sue and will figure largely in Jonathan Matheny's upcoming trial.
Phone records show that on Dec. 27, 2000, four days prior to the murders, nine telephone calls were placed from Matheny's home to Sue's family's home in Canada. The next day, four more calls were made. On Dec. 30, someone in Matheny's home spent more than 45 minutes talking to someone at the same number in Canada. And on Jan. 1, at 7:36 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, a 14-minute call took place between the two households.
Another piece of evidence is a handwritten oath found in Sue's home, presumably intended to be signed by OARA members. Whether the OARA was something merely invented by a high school boy is anyone's guess, but the message of the oath is otherwise obvious:
"I ________ take this oath to serve my superiors to my fullest and utmost potential. ... and to serve the Guyanese people of which I stand for.
"Should I challenge my authorities or the Guyanese people I swear to accept punishment given to me from my representatives. In the case of treason, I allow through my body and [the] consent of God that I be executed by the authority which governs me."
-- Kathryn Eastburn