Colorado men accused of taking ‘memento’ photo after rock-throwing death appear in court


GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — Authorities don’t know which of three young men accused of driving around and throwing rocks at passing cars in suburban Denver hurled the one that killed a 20-year-old woman, the lead investigator in the case said Wednesday.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigator Dan Manka testified that the only DNA evidence found on the rock that crashed through Alexa Bartell’s windshield on April 19 was her own. He also said that there was no DNA evidence linking Joseph Koenig, Nicholas Karol-Chik and Zachary Kwak to any of the other six other rock-throwing attacks they are accused of earlier that night.

Manka spoke during a court hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for the men to stand trial on first-degree murder charges in Bartell’s death as well as attempted murder charges for the other attacks.

Koenig and Karol-Chick, both 19, are also charged with attempted murder and attempted assault for allegedly throwing a landscaping statue at a car with a family inside on April 1.

Defense lawyers questioned Manka about the DNA evidence Wednesday and drew attention to conflicting statements two of the men gave to authorities about who was responsible for Bartell’s death.

Kwak, 18, who said he only recently met the other two defendants, said that Koenig was driving the pickup truck they were in and threw the rock. Karol-Chick, who described Koenig as his best friend, pointed the finger at Kwak.

Kwak’s lawyer, Emily Boehme, said that Kwak vehemently denied throwing the fatal rock when he was interviewed.

Koenig did not talk to investigators after he was arrested, according to court documents.

The men were arrested several days after Bartell was hit in the head while driving northwest of Denver and talking on the phone with a friend. After the call went silent, the friend tracked Bartell’s location with a phone app and found the suburban Denver woman dead in her car, which had crashed into a field.

Investigators have said Bartell was killed by the rock and not the crash.

According to court documents, the men, all 18 at the time, circled back to take a photo of the crashed car as a “memento.”

Investigators said at the time that they believed the attack was linked to similar incidents in which rocks between 4 and 6 inches (10 and 15 centimeters) in diameter and weighing 3 to 5 pounds (1.4 to 2.7 kilograms) were thrown at cars in the area the night of Bartell’s death.

The attacks started just after 10 p.m. and involved at least seven vehicles. In addition to Bartell’s death, three people suffered minor injuries.

Karol-Chik told investigators that Koenig slowed down so Kwak could get a photo of Bartell’s car, according to arrest affidavits. Karol-Chik also said the three got excited every time they hit a car with a rock that night but acknowledged he felt “a hint of guilt” passing by Bartell’s car, according to the documents.

Kwak said he took the photo because he thought that Karol-Chik or Koenig would want to have a “memento” of what had happened, according to the affidavits.

The teens were arrested at their suburban Denver homes after being identified as suspects with the help of cellphone tower data and another friend who had been hanging out with them earlier that day.

The friend told investigators that Koenig often participates in “destructive behavior” because “he likes causing ‘chaos,’” according to court documents. He told sheriff’s investigators he asked to be taken home after he saw the three others taking landscaping rocks from a Walmart parking lot and loading them into Karol-Chik’s pickup, because he said he knew something bad was going to happen, according to the documents.

All three are charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, second-degree assault and attempted second-degree assault.


Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert contributed to this report from Denver.

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