Dietrick Mitchell is just one of four dozen men in the Colorado Department of Corrections serving life without parole as adults in prison —sentenced when they were juveniles. 

Mitchell is now forty-years-old, but can easily be spotted in the prison yard with his awkward boyish looks. Tragically, men who were sentenced into adult prisons to serve endless time were modeled into manhood by hardened criminals. These displaced juveniles grew up being forced to learn the ropes of prison life while their peers on the outside graduated from high school and childhood.

At the tender age of 16, Mitchell ended a night of indulging in Olde English and carousing around the Denver suburbs in a “rented” 1989 Toyota Tercel with a decision that would devastate the rest of his life.  

Today Mitchell has grown into a 40-year-old semi-shy man with a child-like manner. Although somewhat confident for a man who has been raised by the correctional system, Mitchell still has some of the 16-year-old demeanor hidden behind his thick studious-looking glasses.

Mitchell is remorseful of his reckless actions and poor choices he made over two decades ago. He is probably his worst critic and wishes more than anyone he could go back in time and make a different decision. The choice he made in a split second changed his life forever. Kids do stupid things, but not all of them are sentenced as an adult to spend the rest of their life behind bars with no chance of redeeming themselves.

The penal system doesn’t take into consideration that grown men are doing time for the behavior of a teenager that no longer occupies their body. It is excruciating for Mitchell to continue being incarcerated for something he did as the 16-year old that he no longer is. Mitchell is not the same person he was back in 1989 and wants to prove that to the world.

Mitchell was drinking throughout the afternoon when he decided to go for a joy ride with his friend that had access to a rented car. He recalls the moment he made the choice that ruined his life and everyone else involved. Mitchell was in the back seat of the Toyota Tercel when he asked if he could drive.

Not long after switching to the driver’s seat, Mitchell struck another 16-year-old that was walking in the gutter with his friends after a visit to the store. Danny Goetsch was hit so hard that he flew into the air and his shoes were blown right off his feet. He died hours after the accident.  

The discrepancy about Mitchell’s case is prosecutors insist that Mitchell deliberately aimed for Goetsch in an attempt to kill him in the name of his gang affiliation with the Crips, believing Goetsch was a rival Blood member. Mitchell’s witnesses support his theory that he was so impaired that he didn’t know he killed Goetsch until he saw the incident on the news. 

Mitchell claims he fled the scene after he realized he hit Goetsch because he panicked. The prosecutor insists that Mitchell killed Goetsch in cold blood, even aiming the car at him. Jefferson County district attorney, Scott Storey had a strong theory that Goetsch’s death was gang-related even though there was no evidence of any gang-related rivalry occurring that evening. 

Even though the “gang-related killing” theory didn’t stand-up in court, the jury still found Mitchell guilty of first-degree murder. Vehicular homicide carries a sentence of only four to twelve years.  The first-degree murder charge earned Mitchell the title of the first juvenile in Colorado to be sentenced to life in prison as an adult.     

Just before Governor Bill Ritter left office in 2011 he commuted Mitchell’s sentence to 32 years. By this time Mitchell had already served 20-years, making him eligible for parole.

Mitchell has managed to raise himself in prison and grow-up to be a remorseful mature man. Despite Bill Ritter’s pardon, Mitchell still sits behind bars. He was given a glimmer of hope just to have the rug pulled out from underneath his feet. Regardless, to this day Mitchell has an incredible attitude and holds on to hope that “things will work out.”

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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