A visiting judge gave half the maximum sentence to a Grand Junction man who was convicted of three prior DUIs, was on probation and had consumed drugs when he killed a motorcyclist in a car accident, and was involved in another hit-and-run accident less than two weeks after the fatal crash.
The family of the deceased victim sat in disbelief Monday as Judge Charles Greenacre ordered the 12-year prison sentence after they testified about the loss of their loved one. Curtis Littlepage, 35, was killed when Kevin David Clayton crashed his car into him while driving under the influence of prescription drugs and marijuana.
Clayton was high on a cocktail of drugs and had a container of marijuana from a dispensary he had just visited when the accident happened Jan. 19 at the intersection of Patterson and 29½ roads.
Less than two weeks after Littlepage was killed, Clayton was involved in a hit-and-run accident with his father's truck, a traffic case that's still unresolved. Police were unable to contact him for about an hour after he allegedly rear-ended another truck, but were able to obtain video footage of the accident from another driver with a dash camera.
Clayton was on probation when he killed Littlepage and had three prior convictions for driving under the influence.
Prosecutor George Holley called Clayton's performance on probation "atrocious" and presented evidence to the court that Clayton had 47 missed or positive drug tests when he was on probation for a 2014 robbery case involving drugs. He only received 17 written or verbal warnings during that time from probation, Holley said, and wasn't arrested for violating the terms of his probation.
"He obviously doesn't listen," Justin Littlepage, Curtis' younger brother, told the court. He was one of several who testified that Clayton's repeated history of driving under the influence and noncompliance with probation from his previous cases was a sign that the defendant should get the maximum prison sentence.
"He was actually told he was compliant with the conditions of his probation," Holley said, despite the 47 times Clayton tested positive for drugs or didn't comply with the drug testing.
Defense attorney Gordon Gallagher also addressed probation in his comments to the court, calling what happened a "systemic" problem and saying he had no doubt people would leave the courtroom feeling probation had failed.
Littlepage's family described him as a responsible, dedicated veteran who had overcome post-traumatic stress disorder after his active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, someone they all depended on.
His mother, Anita, said she still waits for him to come through the kitchen door, to hug her until she can't breathe. She said her family was robbed of a future with him by Clayton's selfish actions.
"This man who has no regard for the law … that chose to get in a 2,000-pound murder weapon and drive down the road, and took my son's life," she said.
Clayton stood and read a statement in court, apologizing to the family.
"I can only imagine the grief and anguish I've caused," he said.
Holley played the 911 call from the good Samaritan who initially reported Clayton's erratic driving and followed his car for minutes before he crashed into Littlepage on his motorcycle. Members of Littlepage's family became emotional and left the courtroom during the call, in which the caller reported Littlepage had no pulse and was not breathing when those first on scene tried to help him.
He also played recordings of Clayton talking with his girlfriend and father from the Mesa County Jail.
In one recording, his father called Littlepage's family a "creep show" for their attendance at the court hearings after Clayton said he thought one of the victim's brothers looked at him like "he could string me up."
Mike Clayton, the defendant's father, painted his 41-year-old son as someone who suffers from drug addiction that he acquired after a surgery years ago, when a doctor prescribed him opiates. He said his son, a Grand Junction High School graduate, had willingly completed drug addiction treatment and counseling and had experienced intermittent years of sobriety.
"What I'd like you to see is there's a good and decent person here," he said, adding he doesn't believe his son's actions were malicious. "He's in trouble for drug use, but he's not a monster."
"If I want to talk to my son, I have to go to the veterans' cemetery and talk to a cold, gray stone," said Patrick Littlepage, Curtis' father. "I can ask questions, but I never get any answers."
Family members asked the judge to impose nothing less than the maximum, which was 24 years, according to the plea agreement.
But Greenacre, who substituted for Chief Judge Brian Flynn in court Monday, opted to sentence Clayton to 12 years for two counts — vehicular homicide and driving under the influence with three prior offenses.
Littlepage's family was not happy with the outcome.
"That is not justice," said Anita Littlepage.
Greenacre handed down the sentence after calling Clayton's actions "extremely aggravated" and citing the hit-and-run accident days after Littlepage's death as a concern. He said he was surprised there was no "wake-up call" after the fatal accident for Clayton.
He also said Clayton's dependence on prescription drugs stemming from his surgery wasn't an excuse and said he was responsible for his actions, no matter the probation department's shortcomings.
"Probation wasn't driving the car, Mr. Clayton was," he said.
Greenacre sentenced Clayton to 12 years for the vehicular homicide and four years for the DUI with three prior offenses, as well as four years for the felony robbery case from 2014 in which he previously received a deferred judgment. All the sentences are concurrent, and the maximum parole imposed is five years.
Holley said he respected the judge's decision but didn't understand his reasoning. He said he was unaware that Flynn would not be presiding and didn't know the hearing would be handled by Greenacre, who retired from the bench in 2015 from the 7th Judicial District in Montrose.
The last available judicial performance rating for Greenacre, from 2008, shows 63 percent of attorneys surveyed at that time found his sentences to be appropriate, with 26 percent reporting he was too harsh and 13 percent stating he was too lenient.
The reason for Flynn's absence wasn't clear Monday.