James Leyva, star of amazing mug shot, gets 42 years for medical marijuana center robbery try

Categories: Colorado Crimes

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Big pic below.
We've been sharing memorable 2010 mug shots lately -- and James Leyva's certainly qualifies. Last December, we told you about an attempt to rob the Healthy Choice Wellness Center, an MMJ dispensary whose employees turned the tables on the stick-up artists, as Leyva's booking photo demonstrates. And now, he faces 42 years in the joint (not that kind of joint) for the crime.

Look below to see a full-size version of Levya's moment before Johnny Law's camera, as well as to read a release about the sentencing from the Denver District Attorney's Office and our previous coverage:

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James Leyva.
Denver District Attorney's Office release:

GUILTY PLEA IN ATTEMPTED DISPENSARY ROBBERY

A man accused of trying to rob a Denver marijuana dispensary last year has pleaded guilty in connection with the case and will face 42 years in prison when he is sentenced.

James Leyva (dob: 11-08-88) pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated robbery (F4) naming all seven victims, menacing (F5), illegal discharge of a firearm (F5) and two Habitual Criminal counts.

Leyva went into a Denver marijuana dispensary on December 16, 2009 armed with a handgun and tried to rob the facility. Levya fired at one of the victims but his gun jammed and the other victims were able to disarm him and hold him until police arrived.

Leyva remains in custody. As part of the guilty plea agreement, he will be sentenced to 42 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections when he is sentenced on February 7, 2011, at 1:30 p.m. in Denver District Courtroom 4H.

December 16, 2009 post:

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A Flickr photo
For a while, it seemed that most of the muttering about medical marijuana dispensaries and crime was based on fear and hysteria.

But reports about multiple armed robberies and burglaries, as well as a kidnapping, related to medical marijuana operations in Fort Collins were followed by a videotaped burglary at Green Tree Medical in Lakewood that made it difficult to shrug off the possibility that dispensaries could become crime targets.

Now, we're learning about the most prominent incident along these lines to date -- an armed robbery attempt this morning at The Health Choice Wellness Center, 3005 W. Gill Place. Channel 7 is reporting that shots were fired, resulting in three people being transported to area hospitals with unknown injuries. Also, two schools, Munroe Elementary and Castro Elementary, were placed on lockdown.

A number on a Craigslist ad for the center dated December 6 has been disconnected. However, Westword has obtained contact information for another individual said to be an owner of the business. If and when we're able to reach him, we'll update this item.

In the meantime, the incident is likely to have major repercussions on Denver's efforts to establish regulations for medical marijuana enterprises -- the subject of a live blog this morning. The debates during that session about security at dispensaries and so on are now extraordinarily timely.

Expect opponents of more liberal medical marijuana policies to cite the robbery at The Healthy Choice (yes, it's an acronym for THC) early and often in the coming days.

December 17, 2009 post:

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The scene outside The Healthy Choice yesterday, as captured by Channel 9.
The attempted armed robbery at The Healthy Choice Wellness Center yesterday was followed by lots of misinformation.

For instance, Channel 7 initially reported that three people were transported to an area hospital with unknown injuries. But according to Denver Police Department spokesman Officer Joe J. Ramirez, the only person hurt badly enough to require hospitalization was one of the two men who tried to stage the stick-up. His name isn't being released at this time, and police continue to search for his accomplice.

In the meantime, Ramirez emphasizes that the DPD in no way endorses the actions of Melissa Hernandez, sister of THC owner Rafael Hernandez, who grabbed the first gunman, precipitating shots from the second as he fled.

"We will not in any way advise anybody to attempt to disarm an armed suspect," he says.

In the wake of the robbery, the DPD issued a release, on view below, revealing that there have been 25 medical marijuana-related robberies since July -- thirteen at dispensaries, twelve at residences.

Why wait until a high-profile heist effort to share information like this, particularly given the public debate about medical marijuana right now? Ramirez doesn't offer an opinion on that, adding that the DPD has no plans to compare this number of incidents with those involving other types of businesses.

"We're not looking at those stats," he says -- although he allows that "these types of establishments do attract criminal elements, like banks or liquor stores do. You never hear of anybody robbing something like Discount Tires, but you do hear about businesses like these being robbed."

Even so, Ramirez stresses that "it's not the position of the Denver Police Department" to take the type of business into account when it comes to protection. "We are to remain neutral and impartial and respond to any type of crime from that perspective."

As for security recommendations for medical marijuana businesses, Ramirez defers on that topic as well: "The Denver Police Department doesn't give advice on on that kind of thing. They can take their own initiative and take the security measures they feel are necessary for their establishment."

Which, given those newly released robbery figures, may need to be more stringent down the line. Here's that DPD release:

Denver Police Investigate Attempted Robbery of Marijuana Dispensary

(Denver) On Tuesday, December 16, 2009 at approximately 10:06 a.m. officers responded to 3005 West Gill Place on the report of a robbery. When the officers arrived on scene and entered the business, they discovered one suspect who was being detained by employees. The suspect had sustained injuries as a result of a physical altercation with the victims. The second suspect fled the scene prior to the officer's arrival. Believing the suspect may have still been in the area, a search was conducted for the man who managed to elude authorities. The injured suspect, still on scene, was transported to Denver Health Medical center for treatment of injuries.

Police are still searching for the second suspect described as a Hispanic male, approximately 6 feet tall, short hair, with a slim build wearing a black coat. The suspect may also be injured.

Since July 2009, there have been a total of 25 medical marijuana related robberies or burglaries. 13 of which were dispensaries and 12 were residences. Weapons were used in the commission of several of the crimes.

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Jarrett Berlin unarmed when SWAT team shot him, cohort Tara Salazar says he was massacred."

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