A man living homeless in Durango who assaulted another man with the blunt end of an ax, nearly killing him, was sentenced Friday to four years of probation.
In a letter read into the court record, Roger “Arrow” Neal apologized for his actions.
“Please give me another chance for my freedom,” he wrote, according to his public defense lawyer, Mary Pero, who read the letter. “I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t ever want to appear in court in front of you again. I’ll do whatever it takes to complete probation.”
Neal, 34, pleaded guilty to felony assault in a plea agreement with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
District Judge William Herringer said he wanted to sentence Neal to community corrections, which would have allowed him to live within the community while maintaining a job. But because he has a pending criminal case, he was ineligible for community corrections.
That left the judge with two options: give Neal probation or send him to prison. The felony assault charge carries a minimum of five years in prison should prison be imposed.
Herringer said a five-year prison sentence seemed disproportionate compared to what Neal’s co-defendant, Aaron Abraham Duran, received. Duran who participated in the attack, received credit for time served and was released.
Herringer said Duran probably received a sentence that was more lenient than what he deserved, and Neal faced a sentence that was harsher than what he deserved.
“This presents a difficult situation,” Herringer said.
Pero said Neal has no previous felony convictions and has taken full responsibility for his role. She said Duran instigated the attack, and Neal should not be punished disproportionately to Duran. She asked that her client receive probation.
“The evidence here and the police reports here talk about how Mr. Duran is the reason for this fight,” Pero said.
Deputy District Attorney Vance Davis asked the court to impose a five-year prison sentence.
According to an arrest affidavit, the assault occurred the afternoon of Feb. 12 in the 3800 block of north Main Avenue.
Callers originally thought the victim had been hit by a car, but it was later learned he had been assaulted by two men. The man was able to identify his attackers as Neal and Duran.
Duran apparently moved in on the victim’s campsite, and the victim told Duran he was no longer welcome at the campsite.
Duran became angry and threatened to kill the victim, according to the affidavit. Later, Duran and Neal, armed with an ax, attacked the victim. The victim told police Neal hit him five to six times with the blunt end of the ax, “like a full baseball swing,” according to the affidavit.
Neal was especially menacing, telling the victim, “I’m going to get that machete and cut his head off.”
The men made the victim “play dead” before they left him.
Doctors at Mercy Regional Medical Center said the victim suffered broken ribs, a puncture in his lung, bad bruising and had “a substantial risk of death.” Had the victim not been treated, he likely would have died, according to medical professionals.
Both men were initially arrested on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder, attempted-aggravated robbery, conspiracy and criminal mischief.