WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. -- An 82-year-old Wheat Ridge homeowner, Robert Wallace, was charged with attempted murder soon after police said he shot at two men stealing a trailer from his property in February.
One of the suspects, 28-year-old Alvaro Cardona-De Lorea, was shot through the eye, leaving him with brain damage and a disfigured skull.
The two men he shot at, however, remained free of charges for nearly five months until they were arrested Friday.
The second theft suspect, Damacio Torres-Ochoa, 32, was arrested by federal immigrant authorities at his Boulder workplace on an immigration violation, authorities said. Wheat Ridge police arrested Cardona-De Lorea at a Westminster park.The trailer theft and shooting case has added fueled to the volatile debate over illegal immigration.
The Wheat Ridge department has been the target of heated criticism by talk radio hosts, especially immigration-policy hawk Peter Boyles, for going after Wallace while letting the thieves remain free.
Police spokeswoman Lisa Stigall said the agency had to hold back while an auto theft task force investigated whether Cardona-De Lorea and Torres-Ochoa were involved in a car-theft ring.
"They were being investigated as part of a large much larger theft ring," Stigall said. "In order not to jeopardize those larger cases, the smaller cases will take a step back."
When the theft-ring case didn't pan out, Stigall said, police moved to arrest the trailer-theft suspects. She noted that police kept close tabs on Cardona-De Lorea and Torres-Ochoa, and they always cooperated with authorities.he case began on the night of Feb. 24 when Wallace called 911 to report two men in a red pickup had hooked up to his flatbed trailer outside his home and driven off with it.
Minutes later, Torres-Ochoa drove the bullet-pocked pickup up to Saint Anthony Hospital with the gravely wounded Cardona-De Lorea, according to police records.
Police quickly connected the shooting to the theft of Wallace's trailer.
Wallace, a onetime amateur auto racer who still tinkers with cars, initially denied shooting at the men stealing his trailer.
But his mood changed when police said they would obtain a warrant to search his home.
"Bunch of thieves take my trailer" and "look now," the homeowner told investigators, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. "Guess this is not going to turn out good."Wallace then produced a small handgun and said: "Here is what you're looking for," the affidavit said. "I fired two shots in the direction of the truck."
An acquaintance told police that Wallace told him he had "gotten off some shots …maybe two" and had possibly hit the back of the fleeing pickup, the affidavit said.
Wallace was arrested on charges of attempted murder and felony assault two days after the shooting.
Police said Wallace's actions did not meet the requirements of Colorado's "Make My Day" law. It states that a resident is justified in defending them self against an intruder in their home if they have a "reasonable belief" the person poses a threat.
Questions persist about how police handled the investigation of the theft suspects.
7NEWS has found the two men have a history of violations that raise flags about whether they're legally in the United States.
Torres-Ochoa was arrested for aggravated vehicle theft and other felony theft charges in Adams County in 2005, according to state crime records.
But the more serious charges were dropped and Torres-Ochoa was allowed to plead guilty to trespassing on farm land, court records showed.
Such plea deals became an issue in the 2006 governor's race, when it was revealed that the Denver district attorney's office, under future Gov. Bill Ritter, repeatedly allowed people charged with serious drug or violent crimes to plead guilty to farm land trespass.
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