BRECKENRDIGE, Colo. - A 50-year-old transient has been sentenced to 12 years in prison after admitting he used a baseball bat to beat to death another homeless man at a forest encampment in the shadow the Breckenridge Ski Resort in May.
During his sentencing Thursday in Summit County court, Gregory Gavin, 50, apologized for killing Karl Kohler, 45, another longtime forest-dweller.
"I didn't want this to happen," Gavin said, according to the Summit Daily. "I want to say to the Kohler family and his friends, I'm sorry for what I've done."
Gavin pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder, heat of passion in September, after admitting to beating Kohler to death with the bat when he arrived at Gavin's campsite unannounced in the early hours of the morning, the newspaper reported. His sentence includes five years probation after his release from prison.
Statements made in court indicated the crime may have happened after an argument over money escalated, according to the Daily. There had reportedly been a history of hostility between the two men.
Witnesses reported altercations between the two, and Kohler had threatened to kill Gavin on at least one occasion prior to his death, public defender Dale McPhetres said in court Thursday.
But Kohler's family members and friends are critical of what they call a light sentence for a brutal murder, implying the plea deal was driven by the state's reluctance to spend money prosecuting the murder of a homeless man, the newspaper reported.
"I feel 12 years is little to pay for committing first-degree murder," Kohler's brother Troy LaBerge told the court. "It does not matter where Karl lived or what his social status was."
A letter from Kohler's brother Ralph was read aloud in court.
"It is in the most importance sense, there can be no justice for Karl because nothing the court or the defendant does can make Karl or those who loved him whole," Ralph Kohler wrote, according to the Daily. "When I thought Karl's death was the result of an argument that got out of hand, I thought that while 12 years of a person's life was a significant price, it seemed like a price that was in no way fair to Karl.”
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, however, said the plea deal was necessary to getting the real story about what happened between Gavin and Kohler the night of Kohler's death, the newspaper reported. Little was known about the incident before Gavin made a full statement to Summit County law enforcement as part of the deal.
"In a plea bargain you have to give something to get something," Hurlbert said. "What we were looking for was the truth. That's why we made the plea bargain. It had nothing to do with saving the state money. We were prepared to go to trial. It had absolutely nothing to do with Karl's status as a transient."
Volunteers participating in town Clean Up Day discovered Kohler's body at an illegal campsite near the Burro Trail Trailhead on U.S. Forest Service land. Investigators later determined it was Gavin's campsite. He was arrested a few weeks later.