09/08/2006 12:52:34 AM MDT

denver & the west

Thieves: Jail time strained rationale
The Rainbow Family baggers of produce decry the initial punishment as too harsh.

By Steve Lipsher
Denver Post Staff Writer

Steamboat Springs - The two spoiled-produce thieves who were abruptly sprung from their six-month jail term this week don't dispute that they committed a crime and deserved punishment.

But Giles Charlé and David Siller said Thursday that some community service would have been more appropriate than hard time.

"If somebody would have asked us at the time, we would have said: 'Yes, we were on somebody else's property.' But we wouldn't have thought we were deserving of a criminal record from it," said Siller, 27, of Wayne, Pa.

On Wednesday, after defending the stiff punishment that had sent Charlé and Siller to the Routt County Jail, prosecutors reversed course and agreed to a new plea deal that let them go free.

The two men, while in town to attend the counterculture Rainbow Family gathering in the woods north of Steamboat Springs, were arrested June 26 after a witness saw them sneaking into the back lot of Sweet Pea Produce. They were carrying a bag of cucumbers, asparagus, apricots and cherries slated for a pig farm.

The men said they were stunned when the upset owners of the market, Jonathan Hieb and Katherine Zapata, told police that night that they wanted the case prosecuted fully.

"We were very sure that (food) was being thrown away and had no value," Charlé said. "When we got arrested and the police called the owners, ... we thought, 'Oh, great - they'll see what we did, and it won't be a big deal."'

In the intervening weeks, the owners had a change of heart after learning that Charlé and Siller, 24, of Somersworth, N.H., were facing lengthy jail time under the terms of a plea offer. Charlé and Siller were forced to accept either a deferred felony that called for three months in jail and two years of supervised probation or a misdemeanor of trespassing with six months of jail.

The victims' reversal when they found out the sentence coupled with the overwhelming media attention prompted District Attorney Bonnie Roesink to offer a new stipulated agreement that dropped the rest of the sentence.
Roesink declined to comment further on the case Thursday, but she said she has been considering forming a citizens advisory board.

Steamboat resident Thomas Reuter - who said he once served two years in prison for a "trumped-up" witness-tampering case that ultimately was overturned on appeal - is forming his own watchdog group.

"It usually starts out the same way: You get charged for something a lot worse than what you did, and then you get the option of a plea bargain, which isn't much of a bargain," he said.

Charlé and Siller, who just a day earlier still were facing at least another 100 days in jail, said they would hope that their case highlights the need to make punishment fit the crime.

Soft-spoken and polite, the two bearded men, with no criminal histories, spoke from the newsroom of the Steamboat Pilot, the newspaper that first broke the story. The Internet and Rainbow Family grapevine highlighted their plight to an international audience.

"That's what really saved us, the influx of concern and attention that this case has been getting," Charlé said. "We felt so wronged and so alone, so it was great to know that people were behind us."

Staff writer Steve Lipsher can be reached at 970-513-9495 or slipsher@denverpost.com .



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