A Durango man suspected of shooting and killing a Fort Lewis College student last year while sitting around a campfire pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Friday in 6th Judicial District Court.
Brenden Dow Ashburn, 38, appeared composed as he answered routine questions as part of his plea hearing.
His public defenders, John Moran and Justin Bogan, raised mental-health issues as part of his defense. They don’t claim he is incompetent to stand trial; rather, they say he may suffer from a broad range of mental conditions.
More specifically, they say he possibly suffers from a traumatic brain injury, organic brain injury, a psychotic disorder and cortical atrophy – a form of dementia that can include memory loss, a decline in vision and problems with thinking.
Ashburn will be sent to the state mental-health hospital in Pueblo to be evaluated.
He is charged with first-degree murder for the death of David Jones, 26.
The shooting occurred early Aug. 18, 2012, at a remote campsite in San Juan National Forest, about 20 miles north of Durango.
According to court documents and previous testimony, Jones and his friend, Eric Berry, helped jump-start Ashburn’s vehicle earlier in the day. Later that night, about 10 p.m., Ashburn joined them around a campfire. They all drank beer and whiskey and smoked marijuana, according to an affidavit.
After a few hours, Ashburn pulled a revolver from his coat pocket and allowed both men to hold it.
Ashburn fired a shot into the air, which upset Jones and Berry. They asked him to put the pistol away.
Ashburn became agitated and told them to “shut up” or he would shoot them, according to statements Berry made to law enforcement.
Ashburn then pointed the pistol at both men, moving it back and forth between them.
After about 15 minutes, Jones stood up “nervously” to tend the fire. As he bent over to poke the fire, Ashburn fired a single shot, hitting Jones in the upper torso.
Jones straightened himself, walked past Berry, and collapsed about 6 feet from the campfire, according to the affidavit.
Ashburn remained sitting on a green cooler.
Berry took off running and yelled to a neighboring campsite that his friend had been shot.
Former U.S. Marine David Pribble was in the neighboring campsite. He grabbed his gun and confronted Ashburn, eventually subduing him and tying him to an aspen tree until law enforcement arrived.
A breath test revealed Ashburn had a blood-alcohol level of 0.171 nine hours after the shooting, more than twice the 0.08 driving limit in Colorado.
While talking to investigators, Ashburn denied shooting Jones and expressed shock and sadness. The only way he could reconcile it was if it was an accident, he said.