DA made the right call in Make My Day case
By law, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger cannot pursue a criminal case against Joe Hoskins stemming from the fatal New Year’s Day shooting of Randy Cook.
But he took no pleasure Wednesday in sharing the news. He called Cook’s death a tragedy and a travesty. Irresponsible, immature and irrational behavior on the part of all participants, including the victim, led to a fatal, but unnecessary, outcome.
Cook, 47, died from a shotgun slug to the torso inside Hoskins’ Orchard Mesa home. Hoskins, 36, pulled the trigger. But Colorado’s Make My Day law provides immunity from criminal prosecution under certain conditions. Hautzinger concluded Cook’s shooting met those conditions in a review that took more than five months.
Hautzinger would have come to the conclusion much sooner, if not for Hoskins’ refusal to cooperate with investigators, Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said Wednesday. Hilkey and Hautzinger shared the outcome of the investigation with the Sentinel’s editorial board.
The DA said the decision was easy because he was guided by a very black-and-white law. What wasn’t easy was deciding whether to bring charges against Cook’s friend Kevin Eardley, 40, for his role in the deadly confrontation. In the end, Hautzinger decided exposing Eardley and Hoskins to public humiliation was a more prudent course of action.
Eardley and Hoskins engaged in a profane war of words through postings on Facebook. The hostilities between the two boiled over on New Year’s Eve with Eardley showing up at Hoskins’ residence shortly after midnight with two friends in tow, including Cook. A fight erupted outside the home and then spilled inside. Cook was shot inside the house.
That’s all one needs to know. There are plenty of troubling details, “but the legal analysis really isn’t a close call,” Hautzinger said.
Under Make My Day, an occupant of a dwelling is “immune from prosecution for using deadly physical force against another person if the other person has made an illegal entry into the dwelling and if the occupant reasonably believes the other person has committed or will commit any crime in the dwelling and the occupant reasonably believes the other person might use any physical force, no matter how slight.”
The moment he pulled the trigger, Hoskins had already suffered a broken ankle, a large knot on his forehead, a split lip and lacerations on his arm. There’s no evidence Cook and Eardley were invited into the home, Hautzinger said, and there’s no doubt both men used physical force against Hoskins.
“It makes no difference how much the occupant has done to further inflame a given situation,” Hautzinger wrote in his decision not to file criminal charges.
“This case was so unique and so troubling because of the behavior of the people involved,” Hilkey said.
Hautzinger said he believes there’s probable cause to support charges against Eardley, including burglary, criminal trespass, and assault and disorderly conduct. But proving them beyond a reasonable doubt would be difficult. More importantly, charging Eardley would have meant naming Hoskins as a victim. And he’s anything but a sympathetic figure, Hautzinger said.
Plus, the district attorney would have had to maintain silence on the case. Instead Hautzinger opted to open up about the thinking that went into his decision and to offer a public rebuke of two “asinine idiots.”
“I have nothing but ill-regard for Hoskins and Eardley behaving the way they did. They should both be ashamed,” Hautzinger said.
We concur. Hautzinger’s decision, while legally solid, is sure to disappoint Cook’s friends and families. It’s a shame there’s no stronger recourse than pointing out how foolish behavior led to a man’s death. Hopefully, Hautzinger’s transparency quells accusations of a police cover-up. From what we saw and heard on Wednesday, the facts are indisputable and the application of Make My Day in this case is justified.