Depending on which side was heard in Eagle County District Court on Wednesday, Daniel Wettstein is either – according to the defense – an upright citizen, disciplined veteran and loving friend and family member, or – prosecutors claim – a first-time felon, but long-standing Criminal with half a dozen past misdemeanor charges suggesting a habit of violence whose claims of being an upright veteran are offensive.
Ultimately, Judge Paul Dunkelman listened to both. He sentenced the 36-year-old Wettstein to four years imprisonment in the correctional facility and a mandatory three-year suspended sentence for the one-time second-degree attack by strangulation following an incident in August in which a man was held in Wettstein’s prison against his will overnight Willits Townhome – also of Wettstein’s then 24-year-old roommate Mustafa Muhammad, whom Dunkelman sentenced to seven years DOC in March.
But it was not an easy decision, the judge emphasized when pronouncing the verdict on Wednesday.
âI think it’s my duty to try to explain my thought process as best I can. I’ll start with that – today is a tragic day, âsaid Dunkelman. âToday we have a young man who grew up in this community, had struggles, but worked hard on his struggles – lately at least – to change his life. We have a veteran who proudly served his country. “
During the defense’s presentation – which included emotional pleadings from Wettstien’s family members that the judge should consider suspended sentences – Wettstein’s past was portrayed as troubled, starting with perhaps a traumatic brain injury in infancy, through being bullying as an adolescent, to diagnosed ailment and medically prescribed post-traumatic stress disorder after touring Iraq as a member of the US Army. But his presence was further explained as one rooted in self-correcting: Wettstein had spent the last 10 months since his arrest undergoing substance abuse treatment and leading a sober life with his mother in Carbondale, using resources from local veterans- Use support groups.
It was a compelling argument for Dunkelman, who cited such characteristics as a reason to sentence Wettstein to three years less time in the DOC than his co-defendant Muhammad. However, the judge refused to go so far as to impose a suspended sentence, saying it would devalue the crime, which he described as “brutal beatings” rather than drug offenses or property damage.
âThis is a brutal case. This wasn’t a drug case; This was not a property crime. There are different versions of the story, but that was a brutal beating. There is a penalty associated with this, âsaid the judge. âUltimately, Mr. Wettstein, I would like to say this: I think there are many good things about you. I think there is some experience that is why you are here today. Part of your strength is your support group back there, âhe continued, referring to Wettstein’s family.
But the day wasn’t just a tragic day for Wettstein, Dunkelman noted – it was also tragic for the victim, who also spoke in court on Wednesday. Not only did he talk about his current emotional, mental and physical state, which will continue from that day in August, but also read six diary entries over several months.
The public prosecutor had asked the judge to sentence Wettstein to six years imprisonment in the DOC, the maximum limit according to the plea agreement agreed between the parties.
âI am here to ask you to inflict the highest punishment on these people – people who hurt me. Just the fact that my life was no longer normal. I have about 5% vision in my left eye; I find it very difficult to eat – they pulled both molars and my front teeth are now very sensitive, âsaid the victim.
Then, from his diary entries, he listed the various manifestations of physical symptoms he had continued to experience since the incident and how those symptoms affected his professional career.
âMy night was endless – I had nightmares. I’ve had nightmares about people beating me, almost killing me. I had a meeting the next morning; I had an interview. But when I got to the interview, they noticed these bags under my face; it looked like I hadn’t slept in over a month, âhe read from an entry on November 28th.
âI have more chronic pain – more chronic pain in my head. My whole face felt numb. I had an interview the next day, but unfortunately had to cancel it, âhe read on January 8th.
The deputy district attorney Johnny Lombardi also took offense at his appearance before the judge with a description of Wettstein in a character statement as a “war hero”.
“I’m a veteran of Desert Storm 1 and I resent that,” he said. âWe’re not dealing with war heroes here. As a military man, getting out is not a free pass to commit crimes. In fact, you should know better – if he had that discipline and that obedience. “