KINGMAN – Uncontested use of a large forklift as a weapon to maim a man was the focus of a November 16 settlement conference at the Mohave County Law and Justice Center in Kingman. Erwin Colato, 37, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault for critically injuring a co-worker in Mohave Valley on July 21.
Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen conducted the hearing for Judge Billy Sipe, to whom the Colato case is assigned. Another judge not party to the matter sometimes conducts a hearing to independently break down the case for the defendant, and explain the range of consequences potentially resulting from any plea agreement in play, as opposed to trial.
It was revealed that prosecutor Ken Sheffield offered a plea resolution subjecting Colato to a 5- to 15-year prison term for aggravated assault. Defense attorney George Hibbeler told Judge Jantzen that Colato wanted a better deal that afforded him probation eligibility and lowered the prison cap.
Sheffield said Colato had been drinking, was upset with his co-worker and beat him unconscious in a travel trailer inside a garage in the 500 block of A Street. Colato allegedly dragged the incapacitated victim from the trailer, placing him on plywood on the floor of the garage before using the lift to smash him.
Sheffield argued attempted murder conviction at trial is likely as jurors would be horrified by the victim’s injuries and images of the beast of the piece of heavy equipment involved. He said Colato’s incriminating statements to detectives, including an admission that he intended to kill the victim, fortifies conviction likelihood.
Hibbeler labeled the forklift pictures “prejudicial” and countered that Sheffield overestimates the strength of his case.
Hibbeler said it’s not clear Colato intended to kill the man. A heavy equipment operator familiar with the “weapon” in question told the Court that it was remarkable that the victim wasn’t killed, and that “considerable skill” would be required for that not to be the result.
Colato told the judge he deployed stabilizers on the forklift that lessened the impact of the apparatus upon the victim, whose name and age have not been disclosed. He also said he was afraid of the victim because he learned during an argument that the man had a military background and had killed someone in Nicaragua.
A concession occurred during the course of the settlement where Sheffield altered his plea offer, reducing the cap and prison range from 5 to 10 years. But he declined to back away from mandatory prison, affording judicial discretion to grant probation.
Judge Jantzen said both attorneys made good points before proceeding to his candid assessment of the revised plea proposal.
“The offer on the table is a fair offer,” Jantzen said, indicating that probation would not likely result from conviction through plea or trial. “This is clearly a prison case in the Court’s mind.”
Jantzen made it clear that the plea or trial decision is Colato’s, and Colato’s alone to make. He noted that while acquittal is possible, conviction at trial could bring a 21-year prison term. The case goes back to Judge Sipe, who could learn Monday whether he should schedule trial or a change of plea hearing.