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Trinidad man previously convicted of 1st-degree murder released, now charged with murder again

LAS ANIMAS COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- KRDO 13 Investigates is uncovering new, explosive details on the criminal history of a man now charged with 1st-degree murder in Las Animas County. Jason Gonzales, 48, is accused of shooting and killing Alisha Gegelman on a rural property in Boncarbo, Colorado on Oct. 12, 2023.

Alisha Gegelman

The circumstances of Gegelman's murder are still unknown. The arrest affidavit filed in the case, which gives the public more insight into the allegations against Gonzales, has been sealed by the Las Animas County Courts. Through court records, our team has learned that Gonzales was arrested on the property that day after a fire broke out on the property.

Jason Gonzales

A day later, on Oct 13, 3rd Judicial District Attorney Henry Solano confirmed that Gegelman's body was found in the trunk of a car belonging to Gonzales at the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office. The car was originally towed from the rural property in Boncarbo inadvertently after deputies did not search the car before it was towed.

It's unclear if this break in the chain of custody for evidence contributed to the delays in charging Gonzales. He was officially charged with murder on Nov. 15, over a month after Gegelman was found dead with a gun show wound to the head.

DA Solano says he does not object to Gonzales' arrest affidavit being unsealed at a later date. Gonzales' defense attorney has 21 days to file any sort of objection to it being publicly accessible.

Solano said he could not speak on why Gonzales was back on the streets of Trinidad in the first place after spending years in prison for a previous murder. KRDO 13 Investigates uncovered court records that reveal Gonzales was previously convicted of 1st-degree murder in 1992 as a 17-year-old, and was tried as an adult.

Our team reviewed hundreds of court documents tied to Gonzales' 1992 criminal case. Here's what we have learned:

Gonzales was charged with "bludgeoning" a well-known shop owner to death in a robbery gone wrong. The shop owner, Leland "Hap" Thompson, was killed after Gonzales and a co-defendent, Gilbert Pacheco, entered his shop with the intent to rob him but killed him inside the shop.

Gonzales' trial received a large amount of media coverage, and due to this, was moved to Pueblo, Colorado. His defense team argued at trial that he did not kill Thompson. Instead, they asserted that Pacheco, who had one arm, beat Thompson to death. They claimed during the trial that Gonzales hid from police under a car at Thompson's shop out of fear that Pacheco would harm him.

Nonetheless, a Pueblo County jury convicted Gonzales of multiple charges including 1st-degree murder, aggravated robbery, and committing a violent crime. Because he was tried as an adult, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Gonzales spent 25 years in prison at the Sterling Correctional Facility in Colorado before a change in Colorado law allowed Gonzales to petition a court for release back into the community.

Jason Gonzales' Prison Booking Photo

In 2016, the Colorado Legislature codified a law that allows for juvenile offenders convicted of class-1 felonies, crimes like murder and kidnapping, to be re-sentenced. The re-sentencing would eliminate the life in prison sentence and convert it to a sentence between 30 and 50 years, called a determinate sentence.

In June 2018, an attorney representing Gonzales, Sean McDermott, filed documents with the Las Animas County Courts asking them to reconsider his sentence in lieu of the changes to Colorado law. In court documents obtained by KRDO 13 Investigates, McDermott said his prior sentence was "unconstitutional," and claimed that Gonzales' prior attorney was ineffective as his counsel because he did not engage in plea negotiations with the the 3rd Judicial DA's office.

Then, in September 2020, current DA Henry Solano submitted an objection to the judge in the case for Gonzales' release. He cited the violent nature of the offense and the impact the crime had on Thompson's family as reasons why the judge should not resentence Gonzales.

He acknowledged that a re-sentencing hearing was necessary because of the change in Colorado law; however, Solano said "mitigating circumstances do not exist such that life with parole after 40 years less applicable earned time should be entered," court records say.

After a re-sentencing hearing was held in the summer of 2021, now retired Las Animas County District Judge Leslie Gerbracht issued an order in the case that re-structured Gonzales' sentence from life in prison without parole to 37 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections with a 10-year period of parole post-release.

Former Las Animas District Judge Leslie Gerbracht

In Judge Gerbracht's order obtained by KRDO 13 Investigates, she said the court had "no choice but to reduce the sentence," because of the 2016 changes to Colorado law. She continued by saying "The Court expects Mr. Gonzales to continue to ask for forgiveness and to live the rest of his life with honor and respectability."

The Colorado Department of Corrections tells KRDO 13 Investigates Gonzales was granted parole and was released back into the community, on July 20, 2022. He officially spent a little over 30 years in jail and prison for murdering Leland "Hap" Thompson before he was given early release by Colorado's Parole Board, members appointed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

Now, 15 months later, Gonzales is accused of killing another Colorado citizen, Alisha Gegelman.

Gegelman's friend, Michael Malika, tells KRDO 13 Investigates he is dismayed that Gonzales has now been able to "kill again."

"Prosecute this case to the fullest of the law. Get it prosecuted. This killer does not need to be out on the streets to kill again," Malika said.

Gonzales will be back in a Las Animas County courtroom for a pre-trial hearing tomorrow, November 28. He has been charged with a slew of violent crimes including 1st-degree murder, 2nd-degree murder, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, and tampering with physical evidence.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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