Judge advances campsite shooting case

Incident north of Durango left Fort Lewis College student dead

Defense lawyers on Wednesday tried to poke holes in a murder case against a Durango man suspected of killing a Fort Lewis College student last summer near Henderson Lake, north of Durango.

Brenden Ashburn, 37, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of David Jones, 26.

During a preliminary hearing Wednesday, District Judge Jeffrey Wilson found probable cause to support charges against Ashburn – allowing prosecutors to move forward with their case.

The shooting death occurred Aug. 17 about 20 miles north of Durango in the San Juan National Forest.

Kevin Brown, an investigator with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, testified Wednesday that Jones and his friend, Eric Berry, 20, were sitting around a campfire drinking beer, whiskey and smoking marijuana when Ashburn pulled out a handgun and shot Jones in the upper torso, a few inches below the neck.

The bullet traveled sharply downward through the torso and exited the back. Jones walked about 6 feet from the campfire and collapsed.

Public defense lawyer John Moran questioned how it was possible Ashburn, who was sitting, shot Jones, who was standing, and yet the bullet traveled downward through the torso.

Investigator Brown said Jones is short, and he was bending over to tend the fire.

Berry told investigators he felt the percussion from the gun blast, and watched Jones straighten himself, walk past him, and collapse.

“David looked like he was done,” he told investigators.

Berry took off running and yelled to a neighboring campsite that someone had just shot his friend.

The neighboring campsite was occupied by David Pribble, a former U.S. Marine, and his family.

Pribble grabbed a handgun and ran to the adjacent camp. He confronted Ashburn, and eventually subdued Ashburn and tied him to an aspen tree..

Earlier that day, Jones and Berry helped Ashburn jump-start his vehicle. Ashburn joined them at the campsite, and they hung out for several hours into the evening.

Ashburn allowed Jones and Berry to hold his gun before he fired a shot into the air. This upset Jones and Berry, and they asked him to put the pistol away.

Pribble, the former Marine, heard the gunshot and fired a “warning shot,” apparently to quiet them down. He was already apparently upset with the way Jones and Berry had conducted themselves, according to testimony.

Pribble’s campsite was located nearby and above Jones’ and Berry’s campsite.

Moran, the defense lawyer, said it seems more plausible that Pribble fired the fatal gunshot, given he was already upset and was located above the campsite, which would explain the bullet’s “sharp” downward trajectory.

“I think the sheriff’s office is turning a blind eye to this other potential shooter,” he told the judge.

According to a breath test, Ashburn had a blood-alcohol level of 0.171 nine hours after the shooting, a level more than twice Colorado’s 0.08 legal driving limit.

In interviews with police, Ashburn denied shooting Jones and expressed shock and sadness.

shane@durangoherald.com