Even when Finnegan Daly was a 21-year-old senior at Colorado State University, his mother said he still texted her “I love you” every night.
That’s something even Eighth Judicial District Judge Susan Blanco said seemed unusually sweet for a young man.
But Regina Daly has been without those texts for almost two years now. Finnegan died from a gunshot wound to the head in his roommate’s bedroom on Jan. 14, 2018.
Two years and two investigations later, the family’s push to find out what exactly happened to Finnegan that night culminated in a deferred sentence for his roommate, 22-year-old Colemann Carver.
On Oct. 31, Carver pleaded guilty to tampering with physical evidence the night Finnegan was fatally shot. The plea was part of an agreement with the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office, which dismissed two other misdemeanor charges.
On Wednesday, Blanco accepted the terms of that plea agreement and granted Carver a deferred sentence, much to the anger and frustration of Finnegan’s family.
“I guess we are supposed to be grateful that it’s gotten this far,” said John Bucolo, Finnegan’s stepfather. “… But we are not — we are, frankly, angry.”
Finnegan’s family said overlooked evidence in the first investigation led to Carver’s plea agreement, and now they fear they will never learn the truth about what happened to their son, brother, cousin and nephew.
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‘We can’t get answers’
Carver was charged at the conclusion of the second investigation into Finnegan’s death after the first resulted in no charges. Deputy District Attorney Ashley Barber credited the family’s “persistent sense that something is not right” and repeated calls to investigators as the reason the case was reopened.
Fort Collins police closed the first investigation into Finnegan’s death after two months, ruling it accidental.
Among the evidence police overlooked — and that the family asked investigators to look at, sparking the reopening of the investigation — was a Snapchat photo taken 15 to 20 minutes before a female roommate of Carver and Finnegan called 911.
The photo, a selfie taken by Finnegan, showed him holding an unloaded handgun in the foreground and Carver holding three more guns, including the Glock 34 that killed Finnegan.
The snap contradicts Carver’s statements to police about what happened that night, but it wasn’t mentioned in the initial investigative report.
Carver initially told police he was putting his guns away when Finnegan came in the room, picked a gun up and the gun went off, causing Finnegan to shoot himself in the head. The coroner ruled Finnegan’s death a suicide.
“I see no evidence of that gun in Finnegan’s hand except for a story,” Regina Daly told Blanco during Carver’s sentencing hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Carver also later admitted to hiding beer cans and a bong, moving the weapon that killed Finnegan, and using mouthwash to hide the smell of alcohol before their female roommate called police, according to court documents.
But police did not take breath or blood tests from Carver or the female roommate the night of the shooting, Barber told Blanco, so they had no evidence anyone had been drinking.
There is no audio with the video recording of the interview with Finnegan and Carver’s other roommate at the police station the night of the shooting, Barber said. The gun used in the shooting also never underwent function testing.
Gunshot residue collected from Finnegan was never tested, and Carver was never tested for gunshot residue. But Barber said any evidence from that test wouldn’t be helpful because of how and where the shooting occurred.
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In the end, Barber said the charges filed against Carver were all they had evidence for, and the plea agreement resulted from prosecutors’ lack of confidence to convince a jury of these charges with the evidence they have.
“We can’t get answers to some of the questions we’d want to have,” she said.
Finnegan’s mother remained adamant that her son didn’t shoot himself, as the police and coroner concluded. “From my vantage point, Finnegan was framed for his own death,” she told Blanco, calling the plea deal an attempt to brush the case under the rug.
“The problem here is there are so many discrepancies and so many questions unanswered,” Blanco said, acknowledging that gaps in the investigation mean no one “is ever really going to know what happened.”
In explaining why the prosecution settled for lesser charges than Finnegan’s family desired, Barber put the blame on the police, outlining a litany of oversights, faulty evidence and missed forensic tests that could have helped the prosecution.
“There were errors that were made in the first investigation that cannot be corrected,” Barber said.
When Blanco pressed the prosecution about why Carver should avoid jail time, the prosecutor responded: “Because honestly we would have problems with proof at trial.”
Blanco called it “an investigation that sounds like it went awry and maybe was poorly completed is the nicest way to state it.”
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After Blanco accepted the plea agreement, she sentenced Carver to a two-year deferred sentence, meaning that if he completes all of the terms of his sentence in two years, his guilty plea would be withdrawn and he could request to have his record sealed from the public.
In the next two years, Carver must complete 500 hours of community service, with the first 250 completed in the first year. He must also complete a substance abuse evaluation and treatment, and he must abstain from using alcohol, marijuana or other drugs not prescribed to him.
In addition, Carver was ordered to complete a home firearms safety course — without handling a firearm — and write a 1,000 word essay explaining the dangers of handling firearms while under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
The plea agreement paperwork specifies a National Rifle Association firearms safety course because that is the only course the defense or prosecution could find that focuses on safety and would allow Carver to participate without handling a gun, Barber said.
Out of respect for Finnegan’s family, who expressed concerns over sentencing Carver to an NRA-sanctioned course, Blanco asked Carver to look harder for a course not taught by the NRA.
If Carver does not complete those terms, he could face 12 to 18 months in prison and up to a $100,000 fine, Blanco said at a previous hearing.
Colorado Sun reporter John Frank contributed to this report.
This story has a correction: The female roommate of Colemann Carver and Finnegan Daly called police on the night of the shooting.That information was incorrect in a previous version of this story.
Sady Swanson covers crime, courts, public safety and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sadyswan.
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