Charles Ray Stane, 58, convicted last fall of second degree murder for a 1988 incident, was sentenced to 46 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections on Tuesday morning.
Stane’s attorney, John Moran of the Colorado Public Defender’s Office, maintained Stane’s innocence throughout the sentencing.
On Oct. 25, 2013, Stane was convicted for the 25-year-old murder of Pagosa Springs resident Vickie Dexter, which occurred the night of Oct. 14-15, 1988.
Dexter’s body was found by tourists the morning of October 15, 1988.
At Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Moran asked for leniency for Stane and a minimum sentence of eight years, stating that Stane had “aged out of criminality,” had “learned his lesson” after a previous prison sentence, and “has paid for his sins.” Moran also noted that Stane had done well out of prison previously.
Too, Moran stated that whoever committed the 1988 murder did so with intent and deliberation — two factors the jury determined to be missing when they returned a second-degree murder conviction against Stane last fall.
The District Attorney’s Office sought a conviction of first-degree murder in the October trial, which requires proof of deliberation and intent behind the crime.
Moran, too, stated that he hoped court rules allowing prior convictions to be used as evidence would be tightened in the future, adding that he believed testimony from prior sexual assault victims of Stane’s tilted the jury in favor of a guilty verdict.
The crime, following 1988 sentencing guidelines (because that is when the crime was committed), show a presumptive sentencing range of 8-24 years, but because Stane was on probation for a prior felony conviction, the presumptive range is increased to 16-48 years in prison.
Deputy District Attorney Alex Lowe, on the other hand, asked for the maximum sentence of 48 years, calling it “preposterous” that there was no chance of Stane committing additional crimes in the future and stating there was risk of additional “heinous” acts, likely to females short in stature (like the victims in his convictions).
“If we could ask for more, we would ask for more,” Lowe said, adding that he believed if Stane were out, anyone in his proximity would be in great danger.
“This has been a long time coming,” District Court Judge Gregory Lyman said to begin his statements.
Lyman stated he had “zero doubt” that Stane had sexual relations with Dexter and that he believes Stane is a danger to society.
Lyman noted that state statutes give a presumptive sentencing range, but leave it up to the courts to determine what the severity of the crime dictates within that range.
“I suppose there could be a more vile second-degree murder,” Lyman said before handing down the 46-year prison sentence.
Stane will receive credit for 669 days served between his arrest and sentencing.
In a later interview, Lowe said it is unknown for sure when Stane would be eligible for parole.
Under current statutes, offenders must serve 75 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole. That would mean Stane would be in his early 90s before being eligible.
Following the sentencing, Moran indicated that the case will be appealed.
Stane’s conviction stemmed from a discovery made on Saturday, Oct. 15, 1988 — when a group of tourists from Georgia discovered a body floating in a shallow hot springs pool located along what is now Hot Springs Boulevard, across the street from where the U.S. Post Office is now located, Det. Scott Maxwell of the Pagosa Springs Police Department said previously. That pool was commonly referred to as the hippie hole.
The body found was that of Dexter, 40, who had moved to Pagosa Springs earlier that year.
The pool, which was located on private property, was later closed and filled in.
Maxwell previously reported that Dexter died from multiple injuries, but, according to a SUN report from 1988, an autopsy done in the days following the discovery revealed Dexter died of asphyxiation, with the probable cause being strangulation.
During the trial, it was revealed that Dexter also had a bruised face, her right eye was swollen shut, scrapes and drag marks were found on the body, and blood was coming from Dexter’s nose and mouth. Her hyoid bone was crushed, indicating strangulation.
The 1988 investigation into the incident quickly centered on a person of interest after completing over 80 interviews within the first week of the incident, Don Volger, former police chief, said at the time, but no arrest was made.
That person of interest was Stane, a truck driver in town at the time who, according to Maxwell, was identified as being in the company of Dexter the night before her body was found.
With no conviction in place, the case remained open, stored at the PSPD.
The case was looked at several times over the 25 years following the discovery of Dexter’s body, by investigators and evidence technicians from the PSPD, Archuleta County and the District Attorney’s Office, including Mike Owens, Carl Smith and Scott Maxwell.
It wasn’t until the PSPD received grant funding from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (to help with technical assistance, evidence testing, overtime wages, and travel reimbursement to more vigorously investigate the case) that additional movement was made.
Through that investigation, Maxwell said new information presented and connections with witnesses were reestablished.
That information was enough to obtain an arrest warrant for Stane for first-degree murder on March 22, 2012. Stane was arrested the next day by the Lamar Police Department.
Maxwell said the PSPD was previously informed by an LPD sergeant that Stane had been released from prison and was living in Lamar.
Maxwell said the LPD likely knew of Stane’s status as a suspect in the cold case because the two agencies had worked together after the homicide, when Stane was a suspect in other incidents in the Lamar area, as well as later communicating about Stane in a 1992 sexual assault incident in the Lamar area.
Stane was released from the Colorado Department of Corrections in August 2011 after completing a sentence for felony second-degree sexual assault, for which he was convicted in March of 1992. Stane is a registered sex offender.
During the trial last fall, Lowe told a possible course of events for the night of Oct. 14, 1988.
Lowe said Stane, along with his fellow truck drivers, had rented rooms at the San Juan Motel following the postponement of a local job hauling cattle, and the men decided to go out to the local bars that night.
At Pagosa Bar, Stane met Dexter and the two mingled. Dexter ultimately began calling Stane “fat boy” and making fun of Stane. An upset Stane then left the bar for Wolfy’s (a bar located where Bear Creek sits today), where he met and danced with two other women.
Later, Stane returned to Pagosa Bar and was seen engaged in a serious conversation with Dexter in a booth. The pair were later seen leaving together.
The pair, Lowe said, then went to the hippie hole, where a violent struggle ensued. Blood was found on both sides of the hot pool, as well as clumps of hair that showed signs of being forcibly removed, as well as Dexter’s dress found nearby.
Dexter’s body was found the next morning and a lack of water in Dexter’s lungs ruled out drowning.
In interviews following the discovery of Dexter’s body, Lowe said Stane spoke of not liking the victim, who made him mad and embarrassed him, but later talked to her again at the bar.
Lowe said Stane denied leaving the bar with Dexter, but in interviews made unprompted comments about a bad foot that meant he could not have chased the victim, later stating that he did not stab or choke her after only being told she was found dead.
But, Lowe said, Stane’s alibi of giving his coworker a ride back to the hotel, where he stayed for the rest of the night, was without evidence, and DNA present on a rectal swab taken during Dexter’s autopsy was matched to Stane.
But Stane’s attorneys, Moran and Danielle Touart, maintained Stane’s innocence during the trial, instead pointing toward other possible suspects.
Stane’s defense team also spoke of a lack of physical evidence linking Stane to the murder — a lack of Dexter’s hair in Stane’s rental car, a lack of evidence that Stane cleaned blood off himself in his hotel room or bloody clothes, a lack of Stane’s hair at the scene, the small amount of DNA, and other factors.