48-year sentence upheld

Kenneth Wright

The Colorado Court of Appeals last week upheld a sentence for a man who repeatedly beat a De Beque rancher in the head with a sledgehammer handle, killing him.

Kenneth E. Wright, of Rifle, 45, asked a panel of appellate judges to throw out his 48-year sentence issued in August by District Judge Valerie Robison.

Wright argued through attorneys that the judge failed to consider what were claimed to be mitigating factors in the August 2009 slaying of 52-year-old Steven Burdick, including the fact that Wright surrendered to Mesa County Sheriff’s Department investigators soon after the killing. Wright also had no prior felony convictions.

The 48-year sentence was the maximum term possible under a plea agreement in which Wright pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

The Court of Appeals said district court judges have broad discretion, and sentences are overturned in “exceptional” cases only. “We will not disturb it on review,” the ruling said.

The Appeals Court cited many of the same reasons cited by Robison for handing down the maximum term, including Wright’s statements during his sentencing hearing, some of which blamed the victim for his own death.

As the judge was pronouncing sentence, she was interrupted by Wright, who asked, “So, it’s OK for him (Burdick) to just blurt out about screwing my wife and laughing about it?”

Wright worked for Burdick as a hired hand, performing odd jobs at Burdick’s ranch. Wright told investigators he “snapped” and hit Burdick in the head with a sledgehammer handle “baseball-style” after Burdick allegedly made disparaging comments about Wright’s wife.


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