March 28, 2002 News » Cover Story

Rough Justice 

Isaac Grimes' crime and punishment

Isaac Robin-McCain Grimes, 16, has grown seven inches since he first entered the Park County Jail, just over a year ago.

Each time the former Palmer High School student enters the courtroom, his legs are a little longer, his gait a little wider, his face a little thinner and older. His uniform is a black-and-white striped Park County Jail coverall. A bulletproof vest worn underneath juts out at the collarbones, protecting his bony frame. He shares the fine-boned features of his mother's face, her brown eyes and sandy hair.

Two weeks ago, Grimes was sentenced to 60 years in adult prison for his part in the gruesome triple slayings of Tony, Carl and Joanna Dutcher on New Year's Eve, 2001

On March 8 of last year, Grimes, then 15, confessed to killing his former best friend, Tony Dutcher, on New Year's Eve at Tony's grandparents' home in a remote subdivision 10 miles east of the tiny backwoods mountain hamlet of Guffey. Grimes confessed to cutting Tony's throat with a knife.

Knives were an interest of Tony's. A few years before, up at the Dutcher's, Carl taught Isaac and Tony how to make a knife out of a piece of steel and a block of wood. The knife Isaac made is still in his parent's kitchen.

Grimes' confession led investigators to Colorado Springs teen-ager Jonathan Matheny, 17 at the time. Grimes said Matheny shot and killed Tony Dutcher's grandparents, Carl and Joanna Dutcher, also on New Year's Eve, then drove the long road back to Colorado Springs.

Matheny denied being involved in the killings but was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Grimes also led investigators to Simon Sue, 19, who Grimes said engineered and enforced the murders of the Dutchers by way of coercion and death threats. Sue, a slight young man just a little over 5 feet tall, was in Canada with his father the night of the murders and denied his role in the crimes, but was arrested in the Springs on April 26, 2001, and charged with first-degree murder as well as a long list of other offenses.

Glen Urban, 18, was arrested on the same day as an accessory for conspiring to create an alibi for Grimes and Matheny and for allegedly destroying the murder weapons. No evidence has surfaced that suggests Urban knew about the murders until after they were completed. Urban eventually told investigators that he too was under orders from Sue. He accepted a plea bargain in exchange for testimony against the others and is currently serving a one-year work release sentence.

All of the boys attended Palmer High School in downtown Colorado Springs. In April of 2001, the school was in shock. Tony Dutcher, a kid few other kids knew, had been brutally murdered by Issac Grimes, also a loner with few friends. Palmer junior Jon Matheny stood accused of shooting and killing the Dutcher grandparents. Senior Glen Urban, fairly well known and well liked around the school, was reportedly involved in a cover-up. And senior Simon Sue, who had once served on the yearbook staff and was known around the school as a chess whiz, was accused of masterminding it all.

The Palmer student body and staff were further shocked in May when the 2001 yearbook, Speak Your Mind, came out with the following senior statement attributed to Simon Sue: "To annihilate you is of no loss, but to keep you is of no profit." -- Simonus Sueus

Soldiers of misfortune

In March, 2001 and later in interviews with investigators over the next several months, Isaac Grimes described his participation in a paramilitary organization called the OARA (Operations and Reconnaissance Agents). Grimes said Simon Sue commanded the members of the group, and indicated he believed the OARA was in the business of gathering weapons, sometimes by stealing, to eventually be smuggled into the South American country of Guyana. The OARA, said Grimes in later court testimony, was supposedly a civic arm of the ruling PPP (People's Progressive Party), a political action group "trying to clean up Guyana." Philosophically, the OARA opposed the use of alcohol and drugs and discouraged premarital sex.

In his March 8 confession, Grimes told investigator Leonard Post of the 11th Judicial District district attorney's office and Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Michael Sadar that he had been placed on probation by Sue, commandant of the OARA, for failing to carry out previous missions and for misuse of funds. Grimes said he had been ordered to carry out the "raid" on the Dutchers or be killed himself for not cooperating. The motive for identifying the Dutchers is unclear except for one piece of evidence, a report seized from Isaac Grimes' computer stating that he had been ordered to devise a raid on "known racist" Carl Dutcher.

Isaac Grimes later told his family that he believed they would be in immediate danger of being killed by the OARA if he didn't carry out Simon Sue's orders. Sue, he said, had identified sniper points outside the Grimes home, a small rancher north of downtown, from which he could take out any family member, including one of Isaac's little brothers, should the need arise.

The family was shaken, and still worry about their own and their son's safety. At one point, said Grimes, Sue had entered the Grimes home carrying a gun wrapped in a Guyanese flag. Other times, Grimes later told a forensic psychologist, Sue held a gun to Isaac's head. And it wasn't just Sue that Grimes feared -- he believed the OARA had many other members outside of the small cell that included Sue, Matheny, himself, and later, Urban.

Following Grimes' confession, investigators issued a search warrant on the two properties of the Sue family in Colorado Springs -- both houses in the Old North End neighborhood, nestled among modest bungalows, a block apart -- hoping to at least find the murder weapons and any evidence of the existence of the OARA.

What they found was a cache of weapons. In the court file, a detailed inventory of guns removed from both houses lists an Uzi, numerous pistols and rifles, six SKS semi-automatic weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Also found in one of the Sue homes were a gun allegedly stolen from the Dutcher home the night of the murders, knives, an academic planner detailing payments from Jonathan Matheny to Simon Sue, and six cloth ribbons bearing the inscription "O.A.R.A."

Isaac Grimes told investigators and his parents that OARA training included learning to take apart and put together semi-automatic and automatic weapons up on Rampart Range. Some weeks the boys practiced stealth guerilla tactics, he said. Sometimes they shot. On more than one occasion they watched videotapes showing one person killing another by slicing his throat. One time, Grimes said, he was forced to gorge on chocolate cupcakes until he vomited. Then he was made to eat his own vomit.

In the weeks following the arrests, law enforcement agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the CBI, the Park County Sheriff's Office and the Colorado Springs Police Department focused their attention on the guns found in the Sue house. They also looked at any possible connection to the Dutcher crimes or other criminal activity by Keith Sue, Simon's father, and at the rumor of ties to Guyana.

But that focus soon diminished, at least publicly. Prosecutors and investigators will not comment on whether Keith Sue remains the subject of an investigation and neither defense nor prosecution attorneys have presented any evidence in court supporting Simon Sue's alleged claims of serving a political faction in Guyana, where he was born and frequently visits, and where his family reportedly owns a home.

Sue's OARA purported to support the PPP, the ruling party in Guyana. In a March 19, 2001, election, the PPP won re-election, but the party is constantly under siege by a number of rival factions unhappy with rising crime, drug dealing, racial tensions and other chronic social problems in the country.

One defendant has told investigators that Simon Sue spoke openly about his family's connections to the president of Guyana who Sue claimed was an old friend and classmate of his father. The Guyanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. has denied any such connection.

Whether or not the OARA was invented and embellished by Sue and existed only in the minds of four boys may never be known. But the reality of the turmoil and mayhem it caused is undeniable: three members of the same family are dead, including one who died at the tender age of 15; one 16-year-old faces up to 60 years in prison; another is doing time; two stand yet to be tried and could face life sentences if convicted.

Bumps on the road to justice

After spending a year in the Park County Jail, Isaac Grimes was sentenced to a total of 60 years in prison plus 10 years parole. Because he was tried and convicted as an adult, he will not serve time in a juvenile facility but will likely become the youngest inmate currently incarcerated in the Colorado adult prison system. If things go as planned, he will be eligible for a first appearance before a parole board at age 42.

During his time in Park County, Grimes has received no schooling and no professional counseling or medical treatment, though his parents say they gave money for psychiatric care to his attorney at the time, Shaun Kaufman, and were assured it would be used for that purpose.

Last May, Kaufman arrived in court late and asked the court to appoint a guardian ad litem for Grimes, given his young age, to explain court procedures and the ramifications of various charges and pleas to him. Judge Kenneth Plotz of the 11th Judicial District denied the request, saying that Grimes had Kaufman, presumably competent counsel, who should be able to adequately explain those things to the boy.

In previous weeks, Kaufman had declared to the press that he would present evidence that the Palmer teenagers were influenced by the rock music lyrics of the group Rage Against the Machine, and at one point he announced publicly that he was hammering out a plea bargain with the prosecutors.

In June, the Grimes family fired Kaufman, saying he didn't return their calls. In October, Shaun Kaufman was barred from practicing law in the state of Colorado and placed on inactive disability status. That same month Simon Sue's defense attorney, Ann Kaufman (no relation), established at his preliminary hearing that the Rage Against the Machine defense was fabricated by Shaun Kaufman and had no foundation in truth. Prosecutors denied that any plea bargain had been reached except in a handshake deal.

A guardian ad litem was never appointed for Isaac Grimes.

New defense attorneys, J.B. Katz of Breckenridge and Kent Gray of Colorado Springs, were appointed by the court to represent Isaac Grimes. A plea bargain Katz and Gray eventually negotiated with prosecutors included one count of second-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Grimes pled guilty to those charges and agreed to testify against the other defendants in the case, understanding that he faced a minimum of 32 years and a maximum of 70 years in prison.

A day in court

On March 12, a spring day so bright the sun in the high country was blinding, Grimes' sentencing hearing was held in Judge Plotz's courtroom. Family members of the victims were allowed to make statements.

Tony Dutcher's mother, Jennifer Vandresar, said to Judge Plotz: "I lost my son; I lost my life; I lost my mind."

(On July 28, 2001, Vandresar was arrested for driving down the wrong side of I-25 in the early morning hours and killing Stuart Ward Edwards, 42, the unfortunate driver of a car approaching hers. She now awaits trial and sentencing on charges of vehicular homicide and driving under the influence.)

Vandresar described her terror during the months between the murders and Grimes' confession, not knowing if someone was going to come after the rest of the family.

Tony's uncle, Ty Dutcher, testified from Georgia over a speakerphone, urging the judge to remember how much the family has lost, adding that the teenager "was a good kid. He had a lot of potential."

Charles Dutcher, Tony's father, described his son as "a learning machine, confident in his choices," and accused Grimes of committing the crime in anger over the end of his friendship with Tony the previous year.

"Murder is murder whether you're young or old, whether you kill 3 or 2,000," he concluded. "Today's the day to show those kids, to send the message to kids that this is unacceptable."

Neither Isaac Grimes nor his parents disagreed when they were allowed to speak in defense of their son.

"I know my son has done a horrible thing," said Isaac's father, Robin Grimes. "If I had my druthers, I'd kick his royal butt, even before this happened." Then he added, "I know what Jenny [Vandresar] was talking about, the terror -- we've lived with the death threats too."

Isaac's mother said, "I'd like to say to Jenny that I can't imagine the pain; we only have our own pain."

In a plea to the judge for mercy, Donna Grimes added, "He's a kid, thinking with a kid's mind."

Before the sentence was handed down, Isaac Grimes was given a chance to speak. He apologized to everyone -- Charles Dutcher and Jennifer Vandresar, his parents and family, the defense and prosecution attorneys, the investigators, and the judge -- for causing them so much pain and for letting them down. Jennifer Vandresar choked out an audible "thank you" to Isaac from the back of the courtroom.

"I won't ask for forgiveness. I don't deserve it," said Grimes, struggling for composure. Then he denied being angry at Tony and reiterated his fears for himself and his family. "I can't change anything that has happened. I felt there was no way out. I thank God that I was caught and that all of this was stopped," he said.

Take it like a man

The longest testimony of the day came from Dr. Frank Barron, a Denver psychologist, presenting his assessment of Isaac Grimes for the defense.

A well-known forensic psychology expert in Colorado district courts, Barron had previously been called to interview suspects in murder cases some 80 to 100 times. In Isaac Grimes' case, he said, an unusual number of characteristics that would paint him as a cold-blooded killer were missing: he suffered from no major mental disorder; there was no evidence in his past of a tendency toward violent behavior; there was no evidence of suppressed hostility or rage in Isaac Grimes; and, most telling, he demonstrated clear empathy for others, the absence of which usually indicates the psychopathy of a criminal mind.

Isaac Grimes, said Barron, who had spent six hours interviewing him in addition to viewing all the videotaped interviews of Grimes and various law enforcement officers, had experienced deep remorse for his part in the murders.

Barron characterized Isaac Grimes as a child with inadequate development of social skills and an inability to make critical decisions. Though Grimes was extremely intelligent, said Barron, he had lower psychosocial skills than most kids his age, making him highly vulnerable to brainwashing. With the exception of Tony Dutcher in junior high, Barron pointed out, Isaac had never enjoyed a fun, caring relationship with another kid.

Isaac Grimes suffered from mild to moderate chronic depressive disorder, said Barron, a condition that had probably existed since early junior high. And he had developed symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, caused by his participation in and witness of the Dutchers' murders and by experiencing violent threats over a long period of time.

"Someone unable to feel remorse or empathy for others will not develop PTSD," said Barron.

He continued: "A long-term prison sentence will punish him for what he did. He feels that is necessary -- he believes he deserves punishment."

But looking at a second criterion to be considered in sentencing -- protecting the community -- Barron said that, in this case, a long sentence would not be "particularly useful." Isaac Grimes would likely not re-offend.

Then Barron discussed Grimes' rehabilitative needs and the typically inadequate resources of the Department of Corrections.

"Isaac can expect many years without treatment unless very visible problems occur -- like a suicide attempt," said Barron.

Two other friends of the Grimes family, Pastor Keith Hedstrom of Ascension Lutheran Church, and the Rev. Promise Lee of Relevant Word Ministries in the Springs, testified on Grimes' behalf, expressing their belief that he needed to be placed in a facility where he could receive treatment, where rehabilitation was the goal and where he would be safe from predatory adult inmates.

Hedstrom described Grimes, who he has counseled regularly during his time in the Park County Jail, as "still relatively immature, very idealistic, naive, not street savvy."

"There's still someone salvageable here," said Hedstrom. "But the dehumanizing effects of threats of violence are very real, and Isaac will be exposed to those in prison. "The system is supposed to distinguish between children and adults."

Lee, who was incarcerated at age 15 for second-degree murder, emphasized the dangers Grimes would face in adult prison. "Putting Isaac in adult prison is like putting a goldfish in a bowl of piranhas," he said. "He's not street wise at all. Not to scare him, but he'll either end up somebody's girlfriend or dead."

Defense attorney Kent Gray summed up. Grimes, he said, would enter prison already labeled an informant, and the average lifespan of a "snitch" in an adult prison is seven years.

Gray emphasized that although coercion has been ruled out by the Colorado state legislature as a legal defense, in this case intimidation was a key motivating factor in his young client's actions.

"Isaac was told no matter who he went to, they (Simon and the OARA) would find out," said Gray. "He was told to disobey his family; he was cut off from his support systems; he was told how to dress, where to sleep, where not to sleep. He was told, 'If you tell them, they're dead.' [On the night of the murders], Isaac was on probation. Any mistake and he's dead. He had a knife. Jon had a gun."

Gray acknowledged the court's obligation to punish, but urged that "the reason the court has discretion is to focus on the individual." He asked the judge for a merciful sentence of 32 years for Isaac Grimes.

Judge Plotz listened but was not moved.

Rough justice

"The one crime Carl, Joanna and Tony Dutcher committed was to be connected to Isaac Grimes," Plotz said before handing down a sentence. "The hurt you have caused is just unimaginable. You're not an adult, but you're old enough to know, to be responsible."

"I'm not buying your story that you were brainwashed. You're too smart for that," said Plotz. "You've destroyed yourself and it's very painful for me to sit here and watch that. The only good that can come from a crime like this is to prevent it from happening again."

Plotz sentenced Grimes to two consecutive sentences of 40 years plus five years parole and 20 years plus five years parole, giving him credit for the 369 days already served in the Park County Jail.

When court dismissed, the Grimes family and their supporters stood silently staring at the front of the courtroom where Isaac was being prepared to return to his cell. Charles Dutcher spoke angrily to reporters on the courthouse yard, repeating his admonition: "These kids have just got to learn. They've got to pay for their actions."

Jennifer Vandresar stumbled from the courtroom sobbing, her face buried in her hands. Two women walked up and embraced Donna and Robin Grimes in a long hug. They were Tony Dutcher's aunt and maternal grandmother, friends of the Grimes and Isaac, Jennifer's sister and mother.

One week later, on March 19, Isaac Grimes testified in the preliminary hearing of Simon Sue, still not completed almost a year after Sue's arrest. The hearing will ultimately determine which charges will be tried in a criminal court against Sue.

Security at the jail and the courthouse was on high alert. Accompanying Grimes into the courthouse was an officer decked out in a pith helmet, carrying a large automatic rifle. Outside, an M-16 on a tripod stood pointing at the courthouse's back door. Though the circumstances are not clear, on Friday, March 15, sheriff's deputies abruptly removed Isaac Grimes from the jail and took him into isolated, protective custody.

Grimes painstakingly answered questions posed by Sue's attorney, Ann Kaufman, but the hearing was cut short when Kaufman took ill with a stomach virus.

Sue's hearing will continue on April 9. Grimes' testimony will resume and Glen Urban has also been called as a witness -- both for the defense.

Jonathan Matheny's trial for the murders of Carl and Joanna Dutcher was scheduled to begin on April 1, but a motion to delay has been granted. The trial will be held in Salida at an as yet unknown date. The prosecution has compiled a list of some 250 potential witnesses in the case.

Tensions are high and many questions remain unanswered. Is the OARA an organization with ties to Guyana or just a figment of Simon Sue's imagination? With all the defendants behind bars, why is security in the mountain town of Fairplay, population less than 1,000, so extreme? With Grimes' conviction and sentencing assured, will Matheny's and Sue's defense attorneys place full culpability on him?

The whole incident raises larger questions: How does an average kid in an average middle-American town end up committing murder or becoming the victim of a murder at the hands of a friend? What kind of society breeds this bizarre brand of violence? Is justice for youth possible in the adult criminal justice system?

Donna and Robin Grimes will continue to visit their son each week and will try to make some kind of sense out of all that has happened.

"Our position is that we're beginning phase two," said Donna Grimes. "Now we want to talk about the arbitrary sentencing of juveniles as adults in the state of Colorado where the decision is in the hands of the prosecutors. We don't think that's right."

In many states, juveniles who commit crimes, no matter how severe, are brought before a juvenile court judge who decides which court is appropriate to try the case, based on prior criminal history, the likelihood of rehabilitation and the seriousness of the crime. In Colorado, as in 14 other states, juveniles who commit felony offenses are automatically assigned to the district attorney's office where the prosecutor can directly dispense the case in criminal court, effectively removing sentencing options from a judge's hands.

In California, Proposition 21, the juvenile crime initiative passed in 2000, took the power of discretion out of the hands of juvenile judges and placed it in the hands of prosecutors. But a California Court of Appeals decision, handed down on Feb. 7 of this year ruled that Proposition 21 "violates the separation of powers provision of the state constitution."

Willliam LaFond, an attorney in the case that brought about the court's ruling, saw the decision as a victory for juvenile justice advocates. "Proposition 21 took the responsibility for sentencing the guilty from an impartial judge and gave it to the district attorney, who is by definition a biased advocate in an adversarial system," he said

When Isaac Grimes was brought to the Colorado Springs Police Department to be interviewed by investigators on March 8, 2001, at first he withheld the truth.

"We knew he was holding something back. We told him to tell the truth," said Donna Grimes. "Our attorneys later told us that was our first mistake."

They stand behind their son and still hold out hope that he will be placed in an institution favorable to young prisoners, where he can be educated, treated and trained. For now, he continues to be held in the Park County Jail.

"Isaac is someone society doesn't have to be afraid of," said Donna Grimes. "He's a kid who respects truth, who respects life.

"But we can't bring Tony back. Isaac's hand did it. His heart didn't do it; his hand did."


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

More by Kathryn Eastburn

All content © Copyright 2020, The Colorado Springs Independent

Website powered by Foundation