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Man accused of burglary, jail escape and animal abuse sentenced to prison

Jonah Barrett-Lesko was refused entry into a community corrections program
Jonah Barrett-Lesko gives himself up without a struggle Sept. 21 in the Animas River near Santa Rita Park after he escaped from the La Plata County Jail. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A man who burglarized numerous homes, escaped from the La Plata County Jail and allegedly had sexual intercourse with a horse was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison.

Jonah Barrett-Lesko, 26, declined to address the court before sentencing, saying everything had been “comprehensively” discussed in previous court proceedings.


Friday’s sentencing hearing brought an end to four criminal cases against Barrett-Lesko. The cases stemmed from a wave of criminal activity that occurred during the second half of 2021. In addition to animal abuse, Barrett-Lesko was facing charges of burglary, possession of burglary tools, motor vehicle trespassing and escape from the county jail.

Barrett-Lesko was accused of sexually abusing a horse about 10 p.m. June 17 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. Caretakers of the horse allegedly observed the activity via a livestream camera that was installed in the horse’s stall.

After the horse incident, he is suspected of going on a 2½-week crime spree from June 19 to July 9, during which he stole at least six bicycles with a total value of $13,000, broke into a parked car and shoplifted from stores. He stole more than 150 items from Nature’s Oasis.

La Plata County Sheriff’s Capt. Ed Aber describes in September how jail inmate Jonah Barrett-Lesko climbed a concrete wall, broke through a steel fence and then made his way over razor-wire fences. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

On Sept. 21, he scaled a wall and climbed through a fence at the La Plata County Jail. He was caught 26 minutes later in the Animas River, a short distance north of the jail.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Todd Norvell sentenced Barrett-Lesko to five years for burglary and three years for escaping from the jail. The animal abuse charge was dropped as part of the plea agreement.

Barrett-Lesko had hoped to serve time with a community corrections program such as Hilltop House in Durango, which allows criminal offenders to work and live in the community. But his jailbreak dashed any hopes of him being accepted into the program, Norvell said.

Christian Hatfield, his public defender, said news coverage of Barrett-Lesko’s crimes were “overblown.” He said Barrett-Lesko is now on medication to treat his mental illness, must remain on medication for the rest of his life, and that Barrett-Lesko had been accepted into a program at Mind Springs, a mental health treatment provider in Grand Junction.

Norvell said he is aware Barrett-Lesko suffers from mental illness and was using methamphetamine when he stole from Nature’s Oasis and was caught with burglary tools. But the judge also said he understands why Barrett-Lesko was rejected by community corrections, noting that he is a flight risk based on his escape from jail.

Norvell asked Deputy District Attorney Reid Stewart why the misdemeanor cruelty to animals charge was dropped. Stewart said the charge was dropped during the normal plea agreement proceedings in favor of pursuing the more-serious possession of burglary tools charge, a felony.


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