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Details sketchy in student’s death

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

A Durango man suspected of shooting and killing a Fort Lewis College student for unknown reasons has a history of violent behavior and a prior offense for prohibited use of a firearm, according to police and court records.

Brenden Dow Ashburn, 37, was advised of his legal rights and possible charges Tuesday in La Plata County Court.

Ashburn wore shackles and an orange jail-issued jumpsuit Tuesday. He walked slowly and appeared to have some difficulty sitting and standing. He smacked his lips a couple of times, as if they were dry.

He nodded when his public defense attorneys spoke to him, and he answered “yes” when Judge Jeffrey Wilson asked if he understood the potential charges and possible penalties.

Ashburn faces a minimum of life in prison and the possibility of the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder, a charge District Attorney Todd Risberg said he plans to file at 8 a.m. Aug. 30.

He also plans to file one count of felony menacing.

Ashburn is suspected of killing David Jones, 26, early Saturday at a campsite about four miles north of Henderson Lake on Missionary Ridge, about 20 miles north of Durango.

Authorities have released few details about the death, and Wilson has ordered an arrest affidavit sealed from the public.

An arrest affidavit is a statement made under oath that states the facts and circumstances surrounding an arrest.

What is known is that someone called 911 about 2 a.m. Saturday to report a man had been shot. Deputies arrived to find Jones lying on the ground, dead from an apparent gunshot wound.

Deputies interviewed witnesses before arresting Ashburn at the scene, according to a news release from the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

A handgun believed to have been used in the shooting was recovered.

Ashburn is being held at the La Plata County jail on $1 million bail.

Jones, the victim, was a junior at Fort Lewis College. He was working toward a double major in philosophy and accounting, said Mitch Davis, spokesman for the college.

He also worked in the college’s Information Technology Department.

He came to Fort Lewis College in 2009 from Woods Cross, Utah – near Salt Lake City – and was registered for the fall semester, which begins Monday.

College officials met with family members last weekend to express condolences and sent an email Sunday notifying students of the death, Davis said.

“It has become very obvious that David was well-liked, popular, with a lot of friends, and people cared about him at the college,” Davis said. “There are a lot of people up here on campus who were deeply affected by this news.”

College officials have not received an explanation about the motive of the shooting, he said.

“It just is such a bizarre, senseless crime,” Davis said. “Any kind of crime like this is senseless, but as far as what we’ve been able to find out from the Sheriff’s Office, there was no provocation – they didn’t know each other. We’re kind of in the same fog as everybody else is right now.”

Police and court records show Ashburn had numerous run-ins with the law.

He was arrested multiple times by the Durango Police Department for assault, disorderly conduct, weapons offenses and outstanding warrants, said Lt. Ray Shupe, with the police department. He also has been arrested for public intoxication, domestic violence and failure to appear in court. The misdemeanors date back to January 2009.

Ashburn pleaded guilty in 2009 to prohibited use of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol, according to court records.

He was accused of carrying a holstered handgun in the small of his back while under the influence of alcohol, according to an arrest affidavit. His uncle, Steven Ashburn, called the police.

Police arrested Ashburn, and he had a 0.365 blood-alcohol level, according to a breath test. That is 4½ times the legal driving limit of 0.08 in Colorado.

His mother wrote a letter to La Plata County Judge Martha Minot saying Ashburn had been constantly drunk for about three years with a high blood-alcohol level. In about 2008, he nearly died from overdrinking, she wrote.

A woman who answered the phone Tuesday at his parents’ house – 15 Delwood Place, the same address where Ashburn was living – declined to comment.

The uncle wrote in a victim-impact statement: “I don’t want him around me or my family!!!”

When reached by phone Tuesday, Steven Ashburn said he is praying for his nephew, his nephew’s family and the victim’s family.

“My nephew’s had a drinking problem, and I’m truly sorry this has happened,” he said. “I suspect that this is the last time something like this will happen that will involve my nephew.”

In the weapon case, Ashburn was ordered to serve 30 days in jail and pay $832 in costs. His probation was revoked, and he was ordered to serve 90 days in jail.

While serving the sentence, Ashburn wrote a letter to Minot asking her to knock one day off his jail sentence because he was attending substance-abuse classes.

“I know one day might not seem like much,” he wrote, “but I am eager to be out of jail and looking toward the future and getting my life together.”

It was unclear whether Minot gave Ashburn a day’s jail credit.


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