12-hour trial ends in acquittal

Dolores’ first trial in 20 years linked to river dispute

After a 12-hour trial, a Dolores jury took 10 minutes last Thursday night to hand down a not-guilty verdict for a man charged with disorderly conduct.

It was the first trial in Dolores in 20 years.

The charge stemmed from a dust-up at the Hollywood Bar on Jan. 17 between former raft guide Tom Wolfe and rancher Bruce Lightenburger.

The two ave been involved in a dispute over commercial access on the Dolores River that runs through Lightenburger’s property east of Dolores.

The two men argued about the issue at the bar, and then left. Later that night, Lightenburger called the Montezuma County sheriff to report an assault, claiming Wolfe had hit him in the back of the head.

Deputy James Utley issued Wolfe a summons for disorderly conduct. Wolfe disputed the charge, explaining it was a nonviolent verbal argument, and a trial date was set.

Prosecutor Mike Green and Wolfe’s defense attorney, Marshall Sumrall, called several witnesses each, with one side saying they did see a punch thrown, and the other saying they did not.

Each witness was cross-examined, and there were several rebuttals. The six-person jury also was given the option to ask questions, and they did.

The back and forth went on for hours, with a parade of witnesses recalling often conflicting stories about what happened.

A witness for the defense testified that Lightenburger goaded Wolfe at the bar, calling him a “hippy golfer.” Lightenburger said it was a matter of mistaken identity.

When Wolfe decided to leave, he went to get his hat, where Lightenburger was playing pool, and the argument began.

Prosecution witnesses claimed Wolfe swung at Lightenburger from behind and struck him with a fist or forearm. Hospitalization was not required, “but I had a headache for a day and a half,” Lightenburger said.

One witness said it appeared Wolfe missed, another said it was inadvertent gesturing from the argument, and another said Wolfe was the one physically grabbed when a third man jumped in between the two.

The plaintiff, defendant, bartenders, cooks, and bar regulars all took the stand.

“After the exchange at the bar, I watched Tom go and get his hat and get in the argument. I never took my eyes off of him, and he never swung at anybody,” said witness Janelli Miller.

A convoluted backstory emerged that explained why the two men dislike each other. Lightenburger banned Wolfe from passing through his property on commercial raft rides and took out a restraining order against him. He claimed Wolfe cut his ranching fence, but Wolfe denies it, saying he moved it out of the river for safety reasons.

“He said he was going to ruin my life, and he’s doing that,” Wolfe said. “I had to close my business.”

The municipal charge of disorderly conduct was dismissed. The jury was released at 9:30 p.m.