Investigation Discovery’s ‘Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda: My Worst Fear’ follows the unfortunate murder of 13-year-old Daniel Corbett in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in January 1977. While the case went cold for nearly 16 years, the police caught an unexpected breakthrough when one of the perpetrators came forward because of his conscience. However, the alleged mastermind was acquitted, and the accomplices served little prison time.
How Did Daniel Corbett Die?
Daniel Marvin Corbett was born to James and Doris Corbett in Bitburg, Germany, on July 8, 1963. The family shifted to Colorado Springs in El Paso County, Colorado, in 1969, and he attended Carmel Junior High School. Daniel lived with his parents and three brothers at 2337 Laramie Drive in Colorado Springs. On January 23, 1977, the 13-year-old and his brother, John Douglas Corbett, 11, were amassing aluminum cans from an unused trash dumpster at 2575 Weston Road.
According to John, he and Daniel were rummaging for aluminum cans in the dumpster when they stumbled across two ammunition boxes on the ground near the trash bin. Their childlike curiosity made them focus on the strange boxes, and he picked up one and carried it onto the road to look it over. Daniel picked up the other and placed it on the lid to look closer. In his court testimony, John stated, “The last thing I remembered, I heard a loud explosion. I stood up and realized I was hurt. Then I started looking for my brother.”
John said he turned to find Daniel lying dead and started screaming as an individual ran over and led him into a nearby business, wrapping him in a blanket. Emergency respondents rushed him to Fort Carson Hospital, where the doctors operated to remove shrapnel from his body and repaired a severely damaged eardrum. He reminisced, “I still have two pieces of shrapnel, as far as I know, still floating around in my body somewhere.”
Who Killed Daniel Corbett?
According to police reports, the investigative officers quickly became aware of a second bomb when they interviewed the young survivor and surveyed the crime scene. Fort Carson Explosive Ordnance Detachment members, with the help of the Colorado Springs Police Department, disarmed the second explosive at 6:15 PM. The officers identified the bombs as homemade fragmentation devices wired to a TNT explosive charge. Regardless, the police concluded the Corbett siblings were not likely targets of the perpetrator(s) who planted the bombs.
One of the investigators said at the time, “We’re interviewing, eliminating possibilities, things of that nature. So far, we haven’t found anything beneficial to us, though.” He added, “Anytime explosives are used, and someone is killed, it’s automatically first-degree murder. We definitely work on it as long as it takes, and we’ll check things out anytime leads come in.” As the investigators began to look into the blast, they found the bombs were built in large army ammunition cans. However, it was not helpful since Colorado Springs was an army town.
The detectives followed some leads and rounded suspects up, but none panned out. Slowly, the case began to lose steam and turned cold until one of the homicide investigators got a call from the District Attorney’s office in 1993, around 16 years later. Jeanne Smith, then Assistant District Attorney, told the officers she had a defense attorney with a client who wanted to confess about the bombing. The police met Stephen L. Cassity, 37, a former Fort Carson soldier, who claimed he had a spiritual awakening and wanted to come forward.
Stephen confessed to living “at the bottom of the bottle” during his military tour at Fort Carson in the mid-to late-1970s. He talked frankly about using drugs, burglarizing storage units, and robbing a convenience store. He also implicated another former soldier, Robert M. Varner, then 37, and the duo’s one-time sergeant, Charles Albert Valenzuela, then 45. According to an affidavit summarizing Stephen’s 1994 confession, the trio had planned to rob the Weston Electric Company, a famous disco at 2500 Weston Road.
Stephen and his cohorts staked out the disco for several days, noting down the comings and goings, the schedule of a nearby train that might block their getaway, and observed where police usually parked patrol cars when responding to disturbances in the club. They noted the police usually parked near the dumpster. One of the investigators explained, “The bombs were placed where they were part of the robbery scheme. The intent was to kill any police officers or victims of the robbery that attempted to capture or apprehend the robbers.”
Stephen Cassity and Robert Varner Are Out of Jail Today
According to Stephen and Robert, Charles manufactured the bombs, each paced with around one-and-a-half pounds of TNT and electrical blasting caps taped to a grenade-type fusing system. The cans were also stuffed with nuts, bolts, and metal pieces to act as shrapnel upon explosion. The would-be robbers allegedly built two bombs in a self-storage stall along B Street and planted them under the trash bin just before Christmas 1976. Though the trio never committed the robbery due to getting cold feet, they never bothered to pick up the two bombs until Daniel Corbett and his brother came across them.
The police tracked down Robert after hearing Stephen’s confession, and he confirmed his former colleague’s version of events. In March 1994, Stephen pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and was placed on two years probation. Robert was initially arrested in Georgia on a first-degree murder charge in February 1994 but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to prison for three years. According to their plea bargain, they testified against Charles in his trial. Both have been freed since and live private lives away from the public eye.
Charles Albert Valenzuela Was Acquitted in 1996
According to a federal affidavit in support of a fugitive charge against Charles, the police could not immediately arrest him since he had left Colorado Springs for Germany on September 5, 1978. Military records showed he worked as a weapons consultant in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia. With no extradition treaty between the United States and Saudi Arabia, the police had to wait for Charles’ return to the country. They learned through intel that he was planning to visit relatives in Texas.
The Safe Streets Fugitive Task Force, comprised of local and federal investigators, alerted the Customs Service with instructions to arrest Charles when he set foot on US soil. He was detained on September 28, 1995, after arriving on a Saudi flight at Dulles International Airport near Washington, DC. He was taken into custody on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Nevertheless, he was never convicted and was acquitted on May 17, 1996.