Man sentenced to 72 years in Clifton slaying

Simpson Michael mug

Dressed in pajamas and armed with a handgun for a night walk with a friend in his Clifton neighborhood, Michael Simpson was unprovoked when he stormed into a house and fired multiple shots, killing a man and wounding three others at a child’s birthday party last summer.

Drunk and high on painkillers, Simpson tried to kick out a window in a patrol car, spewed racial epithets at jailers and railed against people “ruining our country.”

Simpson, 24, still claims he remembers none of it.

A prosecutor and judge scoffed at that notion Wednesday before Simpson was sentenced to 72 years in prison under the terms of a plea agreement, which allowed for a maximum 90 years in the murder of 50-year-old Marco Ramon Acosta-Estrella.

Shackled and dressed in a business suit, Simpson pleaded for leniency from District Judge Richard Gurley and the some of the victim’s surviving family who attended Wednesday’s sentencing.

“I’m not an evil man,” Simpson told the judge, saying he hopes to be a pastor or counselor, while later adding, “I’m not a racist.”

Simpson, who pleaded guilty in March to second-degree murder and three counts of second-degree assault, must serve at least three-fourths of his total sentence under state law, Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said.

Simpson could be eligible for a parole hearing at age 78.

High on Valium, which Simpson said he mixed with alcohol for the first time on the night of July 28, 2009, Simpson and 25-year-old Joshua Cole set out walking in a Clifton neighborhood after arming themselves with handguns. Contrary to earlier accounts, Simpson wasn’t involved in a verbal altercation with anyone at or near a home at 468 Mae St. in the moments prior to the shooting, Rubinstein said Wednesday.

Acosta-Estrella, described as a family man and devout in his faith, was visiting from Mexico for his granddaughter’s birthday. Four children, all under age 5, were in the home when Simpson kicked in the home’s front door and fired at least seven random shots.

“One thing that reminds me of that day is the mark on my arm,” Jorge Hernandez, son-in-law of the late Acosta-Estrella, told the judge through an interpreter.

Hernandez said he’s unsure if his son, now 3, remembers the shooting.

“I hope this will not create problems for his life later on,” Hernandez said.

In the end, Simpson maintained he had no memory of the events of July 28, saying he last recalled kissing his girlfriend as he went to bed after taking several Valium. Simpson, who was unemployed at the time, had been arguing with his girlfriend in the hours leading up to the incident. Stacie Colling, Simpson’s public defender, said she believes her client’s claimed memory lapse.

“I don’t know if it’s a medical or psychological issue,” Colling said. “I do believe it’s been a horrifying journey for him to come to realization that he did this.”

Simpson was uncooperative when he was booked into the Mesa County Jail, uttering racial epithets. Rubinstein on Wednesday said Simpson also told deputies “the revolution is coming,” and “Obama is ruining this country,” further explaining he and law enforcement were “on the same side because we’re trying to get criminals off the street.”

Under the plea agreement, prosecutors dismissed a charge of committing a bias-motivated crime.

When investigators searched the home of Simpson’s counterpart, Joshua Cole, they found several items of Nazi memorabilia, although Cole’s attorney downplayed suggestions his client’s interest in Nazism had bearing on the events of July 28.

Cole was sentenced in February to serve five years in Mesa County Community Corrections after pleading guilty to an accessory charge.

In passing sentence, Gurley noted Simpson had told investigators he had purchased a handgun just before the incident because of Simpson’s fear of crime in his Clifton neighborhood.

“It’s ironic he (Simpson) was one person he should have been afraid of,” the judge said.


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