Man pleads guilty in De Beque slaying

A Rifle man who faced trial next week in the bludgeoning death of a De Beque rancher pleaded guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder.

Kenneth Earl Wright, 44, could be sentenced to prison from 16 to 48 years under the terms of a plea agreement formalized in District Judge Valerie Robison’s courtroom. Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle moved to dismiss remaining charges in the case, including first-degree murder. Wright has been jailed on $1 million bond since his arrest shortly after the Aug. 2, 2009, beating death of 52-year-old Steven Burdick of De Beque.

According to Wright’s arrest affidavit, Wright admitted hitting Burdick multiple times, “baseball style,” in the head with the wooden handle of a sledgehammer at Burdick’s home. Wright, who had lived with Burdick as a hired hand performing odd jobs around Burdick’s ranch, told investigators he “snapped” after arguing with Burdick over comments made about Wright’s wife.

Some of Wright’s statements, however, were suppressed by the judge, who found that Wright had asked for an attorney prior to questioning by Mesa County Sheriff’s Department investigators, according to an order issued in May. Prosecutors argued Wright never made a clear assertion that he wanted an attorney prior to being interviewed.

Tuttle said the lost statements “had little or nothing” to do with the district attorney’s willingness to accept a defense plea offer.

“Independent of the suppression issue, we believed that second-degree murder was the most likely outcome at trial,” the prosecutor said.

Wright will be sentenced Aug. 13.

According to the arrest affidavit, Wright called 911 the morning of Aug. 3 to report the beating, telling dispatchers his victim wasn’t conscious when he left Burdick’s home because he had “hit him again” when Burdick did regain consciousness.

Burdick’s mother declined comment after Wednesday’s hearing.


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