FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Every so often, Gina Daly wakes up in the middle of the night, haunted by the thought of her son’s final moments on this Earth.
“No one really knows when he left this world,” Daly said of her son, Finnegan. “I don’t know if he stood there paralyzed, slowly dying.”
Finnegan Daly was a senior at Colorado State University in Fort Collins when he died in January of last year. He lived at an off-campus house at 2524 Romeldale Lane, which he shared with roommates.
The death was deemed an accident – the result of a self-inflicted shooting. But since then, his family has questioned the circumstances, and the Fort Collins Police Department’s investigation of the case.
In the weeks following the shooting, police and the coroner said the shooting was accidental, and no arrests were made.
Months later, after new evidence emerged and Fort Collins Police re-opened the investigation, Finnegan Daly’s housemate, Colemann Carver, was charged with tampering with evidence, prohibited use of a weapon while drunk, and reckless endangerment.
Carver accepted a deal from prosecutors in late October of this year, pleading guilty to the felony tampering with evidence count in exchange for dropping the other charges and accepting a two-year deferred sentence. A judge will decide whether to allow that deal after a sentencing hearing in early December.
The court proceedings seem to be bringing an end to the nearly two-year process with multiple investigations and several different versions of the same story.
THE HOURS BEFORE DALY’S DEATH
On the evening of Jan. 13, 2018, Colemann Carver told police he was headed to the National Western Stock Show in Denver with his cousin. On the way, he dropped off Finnegan Daly in Westminster to visit his mother and brother.
“Finnegan arrived at 5 [p.m.], and I was in my room on the computer, and I’ll never forget the smile he had – he came in with the biggest smile,” Gina Daly told 9NEWS.
Gina Daly can remember a lot of that evening. Finnegan went shopping with his brother, Griffin, she said. They returned around 8 p.m. and ate their cheesesteaks. Finnegan had two, she remembered. Griffin fell asleep early.
“Finny and I, we started playing chess,” Gina Daly said. “It was something he started playing, and it was something that was really good for Finnegan and (me) – it was strategy.”
Gina Daly said she went to bed around 10:30 that night, unsure whether Finnegan planned to stay over.
“When I woke up at 12:45 [a.m.], I texted him you know – I’m going to lock the door – have you left?” she said. “And I never heard back. Finnegan always texted me back no matter what hour of the day or the night.”
According to Carver’s interview with investigators the next morning, he picked up Finnegan and headed back to Fort Collins, arriving at the house around 12:15 a.m.
THE HOURS AFTER DALY’S DEATH
The following information comes from Colemann Carver during an interview with Fort Collins Police Officer Kyle Murphy. Police were there to respond to a report of a shooting. The caller told dispatchers Daly was dead. This interview happened immediately after Murphy arrived at the house, as other investigators were inside with Finnegan Daly’s body.
Carver said he dropped off his cousin and went back to the house on Romeldale with Finnegan Daly in the early hours of Jan. 14. The two had met just a few months prior when Carver took a downstairs bedroom.
Carver owned four guns: a Glock 34 9mm pistol, a .45 caliber Springfield pistol, a Ryder Pump Action shotgun and a military-style AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. He told police he kept the weapons at their house, and he had them in his pickup truck when he went to the Stock Show that night.
After returning home, Carver said he took the guns out of his truck, so they wouldn’t be stolen, and brought them downstairs near his room.
Carver said he and Daly also drank when they got home.
Then, before going to bed, Carver said he went downstairs to clean his weapons before storing them overnight. He said he cleared the bullet out of the chamber of the Glock and began to clear the AR-15 when Finnegan came downstairs.
That’s when, according to Carver, Daly grabbed the pistol, waved it in the air, racked the slide, held the gun under his chin and pulled the trigger.
In an interview just after the shooting, as police investigated the scene, Carver told Fort Collins Police Officer Kyle Murphy:
“I was putting them away, and he came in and started looking at it. I told him not to grab it. He grabbed it and shot himself.”
“He picked it up like he shouldn’t pick up a gun. I told him not to mess around with it.”
“I said, ‘Dude, you can’t be pointing guns around like that. It could kill anybody quick.'”
“I glance back over, and I see the slide pop back and see the gun go.”
“He was making jokes and blowing me off.”
Bodycam video shows Murphy tell Carver that he noticed a prominent mouthwash scent during their conversation.
After questioning, Carver told him he used mouthwash after the 911 call was made, eventually saying he was afraid of a Minor in Possession citation.
Inside the house, Daly was lying on Carver's bed with a pool of blood, and the Glock pistol was on his legs, according to the original police reports from the incident, reviewed by 9NEWS.
“At this time the physical evidence observed on scene and the initial report from the coroner corroborates the account provided by witness Colemann Carver,” one investigator, Detective Dustin Wier, wrote in his report.
A second interview
Carver told investigators that after the shooting, he ran upstairs to wake up another roommate in the house, Belle Schweigert. It was Schweigert who made the call to 911.
Both Carver and Schweigert were taken to the police station later that morning, where they were interviewed by detectives and sat with a victim’s advocate.
When investigators asked Carver if Daly died instantly, he told them he saw an unusual amount of blood and being a hunter from Southwest Colorado, he assumed Finnegan was dead. He said he shook his leg and Daly didn’t respond.
Carver also told police in this interview that Daly was already drunk when he picked him up in Westminster, but they also shared tequila when they were home. Daly drank four shots, per Carver, and he drank six.
Carver and Schweigert were then free to go.
It was another housemate, who was out of town at the time of the shooting, who contacted Finnegan Daly's brother.
“Griffin comes out and he goes, ‘Mom, Finnegan’s dead,’” Gina Daly said. “He hands me the phone, and my whole life kind of stops.”
Gina Daly’s husband and Finnegan’s stepfather, John Bucolo, wasn’t living in Colorado at the time, but he was already due to fly in for a visit that Sunday. Word of Finnegan’s death trickled to him in Pennsylvania.
“I googled Fort Collins Police, and I got the number, and I called. And they knew what I was talking about right away,” Bucolo said.
“[The detective] kinda gave me a shorthand, you know, his roommate was there and said that he accidentally shot himself,” he said.
The coroner report ended up saying the same, listing the cause of death as a self-inflicted gunshot wound of the neck while intoxicated. The coroner found Daly’s blood-alcohol level was 0.176.
Both Gina Daly and Bucolo said they couldn’t believe Finnegan would shoot himself intentionally. Police assured them their investigation showed this was an accident.
But that never settled with them.
“Show me the evidence that the gun was in Finnegan’s hands – that’s what I’ve asked from day one, and no one can show me that evidence,” Gina Daly said.
After investigators closed the case in February, calling it accidental, the family got a copy of the police report and videos of the investigation. And they got angry, they said.
The police investigation had shortcomings, Daly's family believed. Investigators didn’t get a blood-alcohol test for Carver, a minor who admitted to drinking that night, and swigging the mouthwash to clear his breath.
While investigators tested Carver’s hands for gunshot residue, the family said they did not submit it for processing.
“When I questioned the police about why they didn’t send it in – that was the response was – well, he was in the room – by his own admission – so he would have had gunshot residue on his hands,” Bucolo said.
And one detail in the police report haunts the family to this day. Carver told investigators he didn’t call for help right away, instead waking up Schweigert and calling several family members.
Schweigert called 911 10 to 15 minutes after the shooting, according to Carver’s initial statement.
“That’s how you treat your friends?” Gina Daly said.
In the weeks following the shooting, a family member made Finnegan Daly's parents aware of a Snapchat photo that taken moments before the shooting.
Per an affidavit, Daly took the photo of Carver, who is holding the Glock handgun that killed Daly. The photo is captioned with the phrase “Shooters Shoot."
Somehow, the family said, police missed this photo in their initial investigation, and they believe it puts Carver’s story into question because it shows the housemates posing with the guns.
“When I very first got home, I brought them downstairs,” Carver told investigators that night.
“I had them set on the couch downstairs and nobody was downstairs, so I thought it would be a safe enough place,” Carver said. “Right before the incident, I took them into my room.”
Bucolo said after Fort Collins Police had new leadership in the summer, he brought the photo to the chief.
The chief ordered a new investigation in October of last year. The case was assigned to Det. Siobhan Seymour for review.
A NEW INVESTIGATION
According to a new affidavit in the case, Seymour and another detective re-interviewed Carver on Feb. 19, 2019, in Carver’s hometown of Cortez, Colo. In the new interview, Carver told Seymour he drank beer, not tequila.
In the new interview, Carver said after drinking, Carver and Daly went to the truck and got his guns. He told investigators Daly wanted to take a photo with the guns.
Carver now said that Daly shot himself after taking several photos.
In the new interview, Carver said after Daly shot himself, Carver picked the gun up and ejected the round out of the chamber. He then told investigators he ran upstairs, woke up Schweigert, then moved around, cleaning beer cans and marijuana paraphernalia out of Daly's room.
Carver then returned to his own room where Daly was and put away the shotgun, telling investigators he didn’t think it would look good if there were a bunch of guns lying around.
The new affidavit also said Carver consented to two separate polygraph tests regarding whether he shot Daly. According to the affidavit, he failed them both.
Carver was arrested in June, charged with several counts, including a felony for tampering with evidence.
He pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence, but Daly's family will have an opportunity to share their objections to it. The other misdemeanor charges were dismissed with the plea.
Carver will likely be sentenced Dec. 4, and is expected to get a two-year deferred sentence, meaning there won't be prison time. Part of the punishment would include taking a gun safety class, given by the National Rifle Association.
CRITICISM OF POLICE
From the outset, Finnegan Daly's family has been frustrated with the Fort Collins Police Department.
“They lacked curiosity,” Bucolo said. “They lacked any kind of willingness to even consider that it didn’t happen the way these 911 callers said it happened.”
Gina Daly said she has never believed the story that her son shot himself.
“The bottom line is that there’s no evidence that that gun was ever in Finnegan’s hand,” she said. “It wasn’t in his hand in the Snapchat.”
“If the police had done a remotely competent job in this and just asked some of the basic questions and done some of the basic testing that we expect as community members that they will do…our questions on this would be answered and we wouldn’t be here,” Bucolo said.
The family took their frustration to the media when they weren’t getting answers from police. John Frank, a reporter for The Colorado Sun, started looking into the case.
“I started asking questions of the documents, of the video and of the police department and ultimately couldn’t get answers myself but was starting to get a sense of where the investigation may have faltered,” Frank said.
Frank, who has covered police and court cases for much of his career, said many things don’t add up. For example, in his latest interview, Carver told police he ejected a round out of the chamber and placed the gun back in Finnegan’s lap before police arrived. But in the initial investigation, a detective on scene reports ejecting the cartridge and finding the shell.
“How can you have this initial investigation saying one thing and you have a new investigation say something completely different,” he said.
Frank also said officers didn’t seem too suspicious about the other two roommates in the house from the start, immediately connecting them with a victim’s advocate when they arrived at the police station.
He said the new evidence certainly questions whether anyone will know what really happened that night.
“It’s not suggesting that he pulled the trigger but its raising questions about what happened between this photo and the shot being fired,” he said.
Fort Collins Police wouldn’t answer questions about the investigation, citing an open case. They released a statement to 9NEWS:
“Our job is to seek the truth with professionalism and compassion, and our investigators really take this to heart. While we can't reverse this tragic loss of life, our detectives have worked diligently to conduct a thorough investigation and gain a clear picture of what happened. This is a heartbreaking case that has forever changed two families and countless others. We will continue working with our community to help prevent such tragedies.” – Assistant Chief Kevin Cronin
Police and the coroner still maintain Finnegan Daly pulled the trigger accidentally.
The family disagrees with the Larimer County District Attorney offering Carver a plea. They intend to argue such during a sentencing hearing on Dec. 4
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