A judge ordered the release of a Durango man from a six-year prison sentence this week after the alleged victim testified in the trial of a co-defendant that the sexual contact between her and the suspect was consensual.
Sixth Judicial District Court Judge William Herringer ordered Tuesday that Anthony “Izzy” Fitts, 19, be released from prison, that his conviction be expunged from his record and that his case be dismissed with prejudice, meaning he cannot be tried again in court.
Fitts was released from the La Plata County Jail, where he was being held to testify in a case against a co-defendant, Devin Bond. During the first day of testimony in Bond’s trial, the victim cleared Fitts of any wrongdoing in the assault.
Deputy District Attorney Sean Murray called Fitts’ conviction a “manifest injustice” in an unopposed motion to nullify the court’s decision to send him to prison for six years.
Sixth Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne said the victim had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of how the facts intersect with the law. She believed Fitts to be guilty, Champagne said, but prosecutors, upon learning the facts in testimony at trial, helped the victim understand that Fitts was “factually innocent.”
“The technical, legal elements of the crime, when applied to the facts of this case, show that he is, in fact, not guilty of a crime,” Champagne said of Fitts. “We’ll be examining the other co-defendant’s case in light of this new evidence. We feel very clear about Mr. Fitts’ situation.”
Herringer sentenced Fitts at the end of September, acknowledging at the time that “he was more of a follower.” Fitts expressed remorse at the sentencing hearing, apologized to the victim and suggested that he’d grown and gotten closer with his family since the incident. About a dozen family members and friends cried throughout the sentencing hearing. He faced up to 16 years in prison.
Fitts spent eight months in prison “for a crime he did not commit,” according to Heather Little, his public defender. Fitts appeared Thursday at the La Plata County Courthouse in street clothes. He declined to comment.
“We are grateful that an innocent man has been released from prison,” Little said in an email Thursday to The Durango Herald. “He is focusing on spending time with his family and rebuilding his life. He does not wish to talk about his experience at this time.”
Fitts, Bond and James Zink, all of Durango, were accused by law enforcement of sexually assaulting a woman at gunpoint the evening of Oct. 14, 2017. Prosecutors said at Bond’s trial that sex with the victim was consensual up until the point when a shotgun was racked. When the victim heard the sound, she began to fear for her life and felt she could not refuse the men’s advances, prosecutors said.
The men allegedly drove to three locations around Durango – the Wells Fargo bank on College Drive, the Conoco at the corner of Camino del Rio and Ninth Street, and the Durango Skate Park – while forcing the woman to perform oral sex.
Zink was sentenced to 14 years in prison and 10 years of probation for second-degree assault and two counts of attempted sexual assault. Bond is facing a minimum of 16 years in prison if convicted by a jury of 12. Bond’s trial is scheduled to finish this week.