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Family fights ‘Make My Day’ focus in Grand Junction shooting

December 23, 2018
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In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, photo, Mesa County Sheriff's Department investigator Danny Norris, who was assigned as the lead investigator in the Sept. 2018 shooting death of Brandon Sanchez, is shown in Grand Junction, Colo. Colorado's "Make My Day" law gives people the right to use deadly force against intruders into their home whom they believe might hurt them. The question of who was the intruder and who lived in the house on Chipeta Avenue where Sanchez, 26, a Grand Junction resident was shot, was not clear-cut. (Chancey Bush/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel via AP)

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — It wasn’t long after Brandon Sanchez was shot to death outside a Pear Park home that the question arose that would determine his killer’s fate.

Was Sanchez somewhere he shouldn’t have been?

And another: Was he doing something he shouldn’t have?

Mesa County sheriff’s deputies responding to a report of a shooting at 3116 Chipeta Ave. on the morning of Sept. 16 found the body of Sanchez, a 26-year-old Grand Junction resident.

Melissa Pruitt, a 34-year-old felon who was apparently a recently installed renter in a makeshift bedroom in the house’s garage, claimed to be the shooter.

Later though, she asked for a lawyer and stopped talking to investigators.

Witnesses cast Sanchez and another man as aggressors. They told investigators the pair had arrived at the home unannounced, barged through the door into a garage where several people were sleeping, and started attacking them with a broomstick and a piece of rebar.

The man who arrived with Sanchez — a relative of his — admitted that was the case, and said he was trying to rouse people he saw as riffraff from the property, where he used to live before a stint in prison earlier this year.

Colorado’s “Make My Day” law gives people the right to use deadly force against intruders into their home whom they believe might hurt them. But, according to Mesa County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeff Byrne, who oversees the department’s complex crime unit, the question of who was the intruder and who lived in the house on Chipeta Avenue was not clear-cut.

“The family dynamics, or the dynamics of that house, were very complicated,” Byrne said several weeks after the shooting, while the investigation was ongoing. “So everybody that is involved in the investigation . we’re focused on trying to dissect that family dynamic and try to break it down to understand it better.”

‘MAKE MY DAY’ CLARITY

In the days and weeks following the shooting, the “Make My Day” picture kept getting clearer in investigators’ eyes.

Most important for investigators was the story told by Sanchez’s alleged fellow intruder, who said the pair had gone to the house that morning to kick out people who were sleeping in the garage. Investigators found a piece of rebar inside the garage and a broom next to Sanchez’s body.

Surveillance footage from the house showed that Sanchez and his relative arrived together the morning of the shooting, parking at an angle and going around the side of the house.

“They pulled up, parked the van, left the driver’s side wide open,” said Mesa County sheriff’s investigator Danny Norris, the lead investigator in the case. “Kind of like a quick getaway.”

While the man who was with Sanchez that day told investigators he used to live at the house, that man had apparently been living in Parachute since he was released from prison. Additionally, the house’s main tenant, a woman named Bonnie Lopez, told investigators she had recently agreed to rent the room in her garage to two of the people who were sleeping there the morning of the shooting, according to case records.

While a “Make My Day” scenario was seeming more and more likely to investigators, Sanchez’s family members were getting more and more frustrated. Already devastated by their loss, some family members started looking for evidence on their own by talking to neighbors and witnesses and combing through social media postings.

Sister Monica Sanchez said she took issue with the idea that Brandon Sanchez was an intruder. He was romantically involved with Lopez at the time of his death and was staying at her home regularly, Monica Sanchez said. In her mind, that meant her brother had permission to be at the house.

She also said that the other man with her brother the day of his death was still listed on the lease, despite having been in prison for several months.

Monica Sanchez said her family was infuriated that Pruitt wasn’t immediately arrested after the shooting, considering she had a felony record, and shouldn’t have been in possession of a gun.

While Pruitt said she found the gun she used to kill Brandon Sanchez in an unlocked soft-shell case on the property, Lopez claimed the weapon wasn’t hers.

Pruitt and several others were stopped in an SUV fleeing the scene. When investigators later searched it, they found three guns and some amount of drugs in it. Monica Sanchez said she and her family are frustrated with the Sheriff’s Office and the light in which her brother has been shown.

“She had that gun, two other guns, meth and heroin in that car,” Monica Sanchez said of Pruitt. “I’m mad because we have been giving them, like, plenty of things that have added on to the case. ... They only want to hear one side of the story.”

‘THEY’RE NOT LOOKING AT THE FACTS OF THE CASE’

Norris said in some ways, families who try to conduct their own investigation can complicate matters for law enforcement. For example, it appears that Lopez, who was dating Brandon Sanchez, told his family members different information than she told investigators.

Every time Norris heard an inconsistency, he had to send an investigator to re-interview Lopez, then write a report on what she said.

“On TV, you don’t see the hours we spend typing,” he said.

Despite the extra work, Norris said he understands the Sanchezes’ frustration, their desire to see Brandon Sanchez in a favorable light, and even the fact that they were asking their own questions.

“I think it’s normal for people to do that, especially if they don’t trust law enforcement,” Norris said. “They’re not looking at the facts of the case. They’re looking at it from 12-year-old, 13-year-old, 14-year-old Brandon, this person they’ve known. ... I don’t have any ill will toward that.”

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This story is the first in a five-part series available at The Daily Sentinel .

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Information from: The Daily Sentinel, http://www.gjsentinel.com

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