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Trial begins in 2016 murder case

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John Anthony Vasquez is accused of setting his girlfriend on fire during a camping trip

By Ian Neligh

The month-long trial of John Anthony Vasquez, the man accused of setting a mother of two on fire while the four were camping in Clear Creek County, began Thursday after four days of jury selection.

During opening statements, the prosecution painted Vasquez as a person so angry at his girlfriend that he committed the “diabolical act,” while the defense pointed to information from the woman’s son, who originally said it was an accident.

Both attorneys will question witnesses over the course of the next few weeks with the case concluding by April 27.

Vasquez, who remains in custody with a bond set at $1 million, is facing first-degree murder and assault charges stemming from the 2016 incident when he was arrested on suspicion of pouring gasoline on his girlfriend, Christina Archuleta, and setting her on fire at a remote campsite in the Arapaho National Forest.

Archuleta was airlifted to the University of Colorado Hospital's burn unit after a 911 call was made from the Barbour Forks area southwest of Idaho Springs. She had third-degree burns n 60 percent of her upper body and died in a hospital weeks later as a result of a bacterial infection.

Prosecution opening statements

Deputy district attorney Bryan Garrett argued during opening arguments that evidence indicated Vasquez poured gasoline on Archuleta and set her on fire.

“This is a case about a man, who over the course of days and weeks, had been building up a sense of anger towards his girlfriend that reached a boiling point — a boiling point so bad that he poured a can of gasoline on her and lit her on fire with a cigarette lighter,” Garrett said, “causing her to linger in a hospital for over 30 days before she died.”

Part of the prosecution’s argument lies in the fact that Archuleta had widespread burns over portions of her body that would have made her accidentally setting herself on fire unlikely.

Garrett elaborated this point by showing the 14-person jury a photo of Archuleta’s injuries.

“What this case is ultimately going to come down to is this: the way she was burned, according to an expert, is gasoline was poured over her, went down her body by force of gravity while burning,” Garrett said. “This case is not about an accidental fire. The burn injuries don’t show that, the origin of the fire doesn’t show that, (and) none of the physical evidence shows that. This is the case about a man that was so mad at her he was willing to commit this diabolical act.”

Defense opening statements

Public defender Reed Owens worked, in part, to discredit the police investigation, the layout of the alleged crime scene and the youngest child’s testimony.

The boy, who was 6 years old at the time, had given multiple reports about what happened, including that the fire was intentional and that it was an accident.

“You’re going to have to try and assess what happened exactly because we were not there, so we rely on the information that comes from the witness who will tell you about what they saw, and it is one 6-year-old,” Owens said. “… These statements are divided into the ones that come first when it is fresh.”

Owens said that when the first EMS responder arrived on the scene, the youngest boy said Archuleta spilled gas on herself and caught fire. According to Owens, this version of the story was told to multiple people.

Owens added that right after the accident Archuleta was able to speak somewhat but never mentioned being set on fire despite having multiple opportunities.

“It’s a tragic matter. Whether it’s an accident or criminal at the end of this case, we’ll ask that you recognize that but you find John Vasquez not guilty of a criminal act,” Owens said.