Self-confessed teenage psycho-killer Austin Reed Sigg has another hearing today, as justice for Jessica Ridgeway begins to clumsily meander through the criminal court system like a drunk on a binge.
Gag orders issued by the judge, though standard practice of late, aren’t helping much, either. Because of that restriction, both the prosecution and defense remain mum on exactly what to expect from today's proceedings or where the case is ultimately headed, and when it might get there.
The matter, crystal clear when the youth was first apprehended, is becoming murky already, as measures are taken to push it off the public’s radar so the jury pool doesn’t get tainted.
Will Sigg cop a plea well before then and spare the county the expense of a dragged out trial, maybe cough up another victim or two in hopes of sweetening the deal? Or will the 17 criminal charges he faces be transferred to the juvenile court where he could expect to receive total privacy and far more lenient sentencing if convicted?
Unknown at the moment and, although Sigg's defense lawyers have had ample time to file a transfer motion, as of Monday anyway they haven't done so yet. It's also not quite clear if they can actually do this now or, if so, whether the rumors that they intend to request it at today's hearing are true or false.
Which is to say, if the option hasn't technically been forfeited, then everything in People versus Sigg is still up in the air...and up to judicial discretion.
But whatever wrangling has been going on behind closed doors, this is a contest that should be easy to call, considering that both the DNA evidence collected so far and the body parts found in Sigg's Westminster Colorado home positively link the defendant to the crime, with or without his voluntary confession.
As well, the vicious and premeditated nature of the abduction, assault, murder and dismemberment of Jessica Ridgeway makes it highly unlikely any court will view Sigg's actions as merely those of a child. Remember, other "children" before him, guilty of lesser offenses and even younger than he is, have nonetheless been made to account as adult offenders.
He will, too, is the best guess.
In absence of a plea bargain on the table, it is Austin Sigg's confession then which will be the main focal point of the defense's strategy once the Ridgeway murder trial gets underway.
Claiming duress, or due process violations, or even that their client is crazy, they'll want that incriminating piece of paper chucked out altogether. Or at least its validity brought into serious question.
The prosecution has the burden of proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” so that approach could work, unfortunately. It's a sleight of hand that has been successfully achieved many times in the past, resulting in some stunning acquittals by confounded juries in cases that were once upon a time considered prima facie.
An excellent example of this occurred in the trial of Wyley Gates, who was also only 17 when he plotted and mass murdered his entire family in 1986 so he might not have to share a six-digit inheritance.
Every shred of evidence had implicated the honor student within only hours of investigators arriving at the grisly crime scene, and by six in the morning the next day, Wyley had even abandoned his flimsy version of events and volunteered a confession to police during a polygraph exam. In it, providing details of the massacre that only the shooter could have known.
With little else to go on, Gates’s lawyer relentlessly challenged that confession in a barrage of pretrial motions that were each soundly denied. Moreover, the trial judge’s decision to allow the incriminating document to be presented at trial was upheld numerous times on appeal.
Regardless, where Wyley’s defense team had failed on the merits, it prevailed in the argument, hammering away at the credibility of investigators until finally convincing jurors that the boy had been outright bullied and coerced into admitting to a crime he hadn’t committed.
A jury of perplexed peers then declared the defendant not guilty on all counts of murder, and, to the shock and outrage of the community, convicted him only of a conspiracy to kill. The one charge Gates could not weasel out of because the murder plans were found on the hard drive of his computer in a Dungeons & Dragons style program he’d designed called "Infierno."
Like Austin Sigg, Wyley Gates was charged (and tried) as an adult for the Gates Massacre, and, in all, the teen had boldly bragged about killing his family to at least a dozen other people, including psychiatrists, classmates, and his own grandmother. Yet, thanks to clever counsel, this dangerous teenage psychopath was sentenced to only 8 1/3 - 25 years for those brutal slayings, and served less than 18 years when finally paroled.
He got his law degree while in prison, and went to work for a NYC law firm when released.
A cautionary tale about the perils of trying baby-faced killers for perpetrating crimes not even dared by most adults.
Eponymous Rox is the author of DUNGEONS, DRAGONS, MURDER