ALAMOSA — Attorney and former Alamosa resident James Marshall was sentenced to 11 years in the state prison for shooting Danny Pruitt in the back of the head during a local Black Lives Matter protest in June of 2020.
Pruitt, of Alamosa, survived the shooting but sustained a traumatic brain injury, resulting in permanent damage.
The sentencing ends a case that has been controversial from day one when a local defense attorney went to a peaceful protest armed with a 9 mm Glock, that he used to shoot Pruitt through the back window of his truck allegedly in defense of others, including his wife.
The judicial proceedings that followed Marshall’s arrest “took on a life of its own,” says defense counsel Randy Canney, with multiple continuances as counsel attempted to reach a resolution. Ultimately, in an eleventh-hour deal, a resolution was reached even as potential jurors, who had been summoned for jury duty in the case, were gathering in the hallway.
The specifics of the plea deal sparked more controversy when it was learned that all charges directly related to the shooting were dismissed, including second-degree attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, second-degree assault resulting in serious bodily injury and reckless endangerment, three of which carried a sentence enhancer that increased the maximum sentencing allowed.
In their place, Marshall was only charged with tampering with a deceased human body, also a third-degree felony but one that does not have a sentence enhancer for being a crime of violence, does not reflect that a deadly weapon was used in the crime and required a “waiver of factual basis” in the charges in order to be considered by the court.
Proceedings were further delayed when it was revealed that Pruitt had encountered legal difficulties with the Costilla County Sheriff’s Office and defense counsel requested the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office provide them with court documents.
That was the backdrop of the case when Marshall appeared for sentencing on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
DA Alonzo Payne’s first witness was Sam Coffman, an investigator with the DA’s office, who summarized for the judge the events of the shooting based on videos he had watched from three different businesses located in view of the crime scene.
In his testimony, that lasted less than a few minutes, Coffman included three details that condemned Marshall’s conduct. Coffman said that Pruitt pulled up to the intersection. Marshall went to the side of the truck. Three protesters got out of the way of Pruitt’s vehicle. There were no protesters in front of the truck and Mariah Marshall was behind Pruitt’s truck when Marshall fired a shot into the back window of Pruitt’s truck. Pruitt’s truck rolled into the intersection before coming to a stop.
At that point, Marshall took off running past his wife, leaving her behind him. Marshall did not check on the other protesters or his wife or attempted to render aid to Pruitt. Protesters rendered aid to Pruitt while “Mr. Marshall was the first one off the scene,” Coffman said.
Matthew Beresky, an attorney with Rocky Mountain Victim Rights Center representing Pruitt to make sure that his victim’s rights were being observed, read a statement to the court.
Beresky described what Pruitt suffered from being shot, including a 17-day induced coma followed by having to relearn basic activities like standing, taking a shower, brushing his teeth and hair. The bullet that is still in his brain has permanently impaired his short-term memory, attention span, speech, ability to control emotions and other cognitive functions.
Beresky condemned the plea agreement, stating that it “offends the very concept of justice and does not reflect the nature of the crime or its effect,” adding that “allowing James Marshall to plead guilty to abuse of a corpse disregards the fact that Mr. Pruitt is a living human being” and stripped Pruitt of his rights.
At that point, Beresky turned his attention to DA Payne’s handling of the case, stating Payne had little to no contact while Pruitt was going through “an agonizing time” and made no attempt to learn how to understand or work with a brain injured victim, including sending several notices to Pruitt without ascertaining if Pruitt had the ability to read, write or understand what was being said.
Beresky described Pruitt as being victimized twice — first by Marshall and then by the DA’s office that failed to treat him with consideration or respect.
On behalf of Pruitt, Beresky asked that the plea deal be vacated and either more appropriate charges be filed or the case go to trial. If that did not happen, he requested that the maximum sentence be employed
Pruitt then took the stand and made a short statement, saying it has been a long road of recovery and he should not have had to stay in the area to make sure Marshall was prosecuted.
“James Marshall shot me, ran away and hid in the trunk of a car. He should be jailed today and not released,” Pruitt said.
Those were the only witnesses called by DA Payne.
Defense counsel called five witnesses to testify — a childhood friend, three colleagues from law school and a Colorado University law professor who allowed Marshall and his wife to live on her land for several months after the shooting.
Each witness described Marshall in the same general terms — as a good, compassionate man who loved his wife deeply, was concerned for her welfare and was devoted to representing “people who have no voice” in the criminal justice system.
A former prosecutor in Logan and Washington County testified that Marshall had told him he intended to pay Pruitt full restitution for what he had suffered. He then went on to make the case that, the longer Marshall is in jail and unable to be gainfully employed, the longer Pruitt will have to wait to receive that restitution.
Marshall then made a statement to the court that lasted more than 30 minutes. It was the first time he had spoken in court other than perfunctory answers.
Marshall spoke at length about his culpability, his regret for having injured Pruitt, his intention to pay restitution and his fervent wish he could “undo” what he had done. He said he wished Pruitt could forgive him, but he did not expect it to happen.
At one point, Pruitt, who was sitting in the front row, made a comment, which prompted a request from the judge to be respectful. Pruitt also rose from his chair and left the courtroom on several occasions.
Marshall also explained his history with guns, citing “a friend of a friend” who was stabbed near to where he lived in Ohio. Although he took responsibility for what he did, he suggested that Pruitt had initiated the situation with his “malicious grin” and pointing in his direction.
He also described the ways he “had been punished,” which included not being able to practice law in the last 18 months.
“At least, Mr. Pruitt will have closure after today,” he said. Marshall also indicated that a decision was made that his law license was going to be suspended for three years.
After a brief recess, Judge Gilbert Martinez said that he had not seen the video since “the DA did not present that to the court or admit it into evidence.”
That resulted in Martinez having to confer with Payne, in court, that Marshall’s wife was standing behind the truck when Marshall shot Pruitt. Payne confirmed this detail.
Martinez then went through in succinct but thorough detail what went into his decision, stating that Marshall being an attorney did not factor into his decision.
“This is a case where a good man did a bad thing,” Martinez said. “Is there undue risk that the defendant will commit a crime again? No. But would a minimum sentence unduly diminish the seriousness of the crime and respect for the law? Yes, it would.”
The only statement that Martinez took issue with was Marshall saying that sentencing would bring closure to Pruitt.
“No, he won’t get that. He will live with this for the rest of his life,” Judge Martinez said.
Martinez sentenced Marshall to 11 years in the Colorado Department of Correction, which was one year short of the maximum sentence, plus credit for the two days Marshall had served in jail. He then instructed that Marshall be immediately taken into custody and transferred to a detention facility.
After the hearing, Canney said that Marshall was disappointed in the outcome. He also said that they “definitely“ plan to file a motion to reconsider the sentence.
Because Marshall did not plead guilty to a crime of violence, the chances are good that his sentence will be reduced by 50 percent to about 5 and a half years with potentially less time served if there are no incidents while he is in prison.