The Pueblo West View

Four suspects in home-invasion murder remain the focal point

Larry and Susie Wagner awoke in the early morning hours of March 11, 2003, to the sounds of a phone ringing and knocks at their front door.

Police were there to tell them their son, Derrick Wagner, was shot and killed at his apartment on the 2100 block of Aztec Drive a little earlier in the morning.

“It was 3 a.m. and we were in bed and the phone kept ringing and we kept hearing someone knocking at the door,” Susie Wagner said. “At first I thought it was Derrick. Derrick had moved back here to take care of me because I’d had a knee replacement surgery. When he came over he’d always call on his phone then open the door so when the doorbell and phone were ringing, that was Derrick’s code so I thought it must be him.”

Susie Wagner opened the door and said she remembers saying, “Hi, Derrick,” only to be greeted by two police officers.

“It really must have shocked the policemen at the door when I said that but I thought it was him,” Susie Wagner said.

Those officers told the Wagners Derrick had died.

“At first I said, ‘Oh no, you’re thinking of somebody else, Derrick always wears his seatbelt,’ because I thought it was a car accident or something,” Susie Wagner said. “He was working on Baptist Road in Springs painting houses at the time and I thought since it was dark he had been in a fender-bender.”

The officers worked their way up to telling the Wagners that Derrick was shot to death by intruders.

“They were concerned about telling me that, I think,” Susie Wagner said. “They were very nice but it just didn’t make sense.”

Derrick Wagner was killed when masked men barged into his apartment and shot him once in the chest around 12:45 a.m. on March 11, 2003. He was 23 years old at the time.

The homicide gained a lot of local and statewide attention.

Charges fall flat

Derrick Wagner was targeted for a large indoor marijuana farm he had in his basement.

After two years went by, four men were charged in his death including Willie Robbins, Dallas Moore, Michael Dominick Aragon and James Tyrone Carter.

The prosecution’s case unraveled, however, when witnesses refused to testify.

Robbins was taken to trial and found innocent, which eventually led to the dismissal of charges against the other suspects.

According to a story published in The Pueblo Chieftain on April 6, 2006, a jury panel made up of six men and six women deliberated for three hours before returning verdicts of not guilty on charges against Robbins of first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and burglary.

Jurors cited the overall weakness of the prosecution’s case as the basis for their verdict.

“It wasn’t any particular thing, there just wasn’t enough evidence,” one unnamed juror was quoted as saying. “We took the reasonable doubt thing very seriously.”

If found guilty, Robbins, who was 24 at the time, could have faced life in prison.

Witness account

Derrick Wagner’s roommate, Ricardo Lewis, who was 30 at the time, was home when the home invasion took place and testified during Robbins’ trial.

Lewis said robbers entered the apartment and demanded money and he said there was none, but directed them to the large indoor marijuana cultivation operation in the basement. The robbers asked Lewis who else was home, and he summoned Wagner from his bedroom.

Wagner emerged with an unloaded handgun in his pocket and his hands raised in surrender, according to testimony. When the robbers ordered Wagner to drop the gun, he reached for it and was shot once, Lewis said.

Lewis was unable to identify any suspects because of the masks they wore.

More roadblocks

Robbins initially was arrested on suspicion of Wagner’s murder in September 2003, but then-District Attorney Gus Sandstrom dismissed the charges a month later, citing insufficient evidence to proceed with the case.

The prosecution’s case against Robbins and the other defendants relied heavily on the statements of jailhouse informants. When three informants failed to testify against Robbins, the prosecution’s case crumbled.

“We were already into the case when the refusal to testify came through so there was no saying let’s dismiss it and see if we can shore it up at that point,” Andy McLachlan, a deputy chief with the Pueblo Police Department said. “We were into the case so we had no decision but to try and finish the case.

“Although this case sits in our cold case file it is one of those ones where we don’t have any evidence or belief that anybody else is involved. We still look at those four.”

Moving forward

McLachlan said the police department hasn’t received any new information regarding the case in years.

“We’re not searching for the suspects, we’re searching for additional facts that would lead to a successful prosecution,” he said.

Larry Wagner, a longtime East High School wrestling coach and educator, said his hope is that someone who knows something about his son’s death comes forward.

“I helped some kids out, kept them out of trouble, and I think some of those kids know who did it and they know exactly what happened and I get no payback,” Larry Wagner said recently. “I don’t know if that’s being greedy or not but I think there’s some people within our community that could help us.

“What I’m waiting for is a disgruntled girlfriend to come forward and say, ‘Hey, he told me that he did it.’ To me, it’s very unusual to have four people involved and not be talking. I don’t believe they haven’t been talking.”

Seeking justice

The Wagners said bringing someone to justice for Derrick’s death would bring them some closure and they’re fighting daily to make sure it happens.

“It’ll never take away the loss of Derrick or us missing him or that he didn’t get to have kids because he loved kids. But just the answer of who did it and not having to keep looking over my shoulders would be good,” Susie Wagner said.

“It would help bring closure,” Larry Wagner said. “We just don’t want who did this to hurt someone else like they did to us. For me it would be closure to the degree that somebody is paying for it.

“It doesn’t bring him any closer back but you can be satisfied knowing someone is paying for what they did.”

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The Pueblo West View