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12-hour trial ends quickly in acquittal

Dolores jury finds accused in dispute not guilty

After a 12-hour trial, a Dolores jury took 10 minutes Thursday evening to hand down a not-guilty verdict for a man charged with disorderly conduct.

It was the first trial in Dolores in 20 years.

The charge stemmed from a dust-up at the Hollywood Bar on Jan. 17 between a former raft company owner and a local rancher.

Rancher Bruce Lightenburger and raft guide Tom Wolfe have been involved in a dispute over commercial access on the Dolores River that runs through Lightenburger's private property east of Dolores.

The two men briefly argued about the issue at the bar, and then left the establishment. Later that night, Lightenburger called the Montezuma County sheriff to report an assault, claiming Wolfe had hit him in the back of the head.

After an investigation, deputy James Utley issued Wolfe a summons for disorderly conduct. Wolfe disputed the charge, explaining it was a verbal argument that was not physical, and a trial date was set.

Prosecutor Mike Green and Wolfe's defense attorney, Marshall Sumrall, called several witnesses each, with one side saying they did see a punch thrown, and the other saying they did not.

Each witness was cross-examined by opposing attorneys, and there were several rebuttals. Before each witness was excused, the six-person jury was given the option to ask questions, which they did numerous times.

The back and forth went on for hours, with a parade of witnesses recalling often conflicting stories about what happened.

A witness for the defense testified that Lightenburger goaded Wolfe at the bar, calling him a "hippy golfer." Lightenburger said it was a matter of mistaken identity.

When Wolfe decided to leave, he went to get his hat, which was where Lightenburger was playing pool with friends, triggering the argument and alleged punch.

Prosecution witnesses claimed Wolfe swung at Lightenburger from behind and struck him with a fist or forearm. Hospitalization was not required, "but I had a headache for a day and a half," Lightenburger said.

One witness said it appeared Wolfe missed, another said it was inadvertent gesturing from the argument, and yet another said Wolfe was the one physically grabbed when a third man jumped in between the two.

The plaintiff and defendant, along with bartenders, cooks, bar regulars and members of both parties all took the stand during the trial.

"After the exchange at the bar, I watched Tom go and get his hat and get in the argument. I never took my eyes off of him, and he never swung at anybody," said witness Janelli Miller. "We were just trying to leave."

A convoluted backstory emerged that explained why the two men dislike each other. Lightenburger banned Wolfe from passing through his property on commercial raft rides and took out a restraining order against him. He claimed Wolfe cut his ranching fence, but Wolfe denies it, saying he moved it out of the river for safety reasons.

"He said he was going to ruin my life, and he's doing that," Wolfe said. "I had to close my business."

The municipal charge of disorderly conduct was dismissed. The jury was released at 9:30 p.m.