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Man acquitted in death of Denver columnist

A wealthy playboy's friend was acquitted of vehicular homicide on Wednesday in the hit-and-run accident that killed a popular newspaper columnist.

Jorg Peter Schmitz had been charged in the death of Rocky Mountain News columnist Greg Lopez after his friend Spicer Breeden fatally shot himself in the head with a .357 Magnum revolver.

Breeden's suicide note suggested Schmitz was driving the BMW on March 17, 1996, when it clipped Lopez's sport utility vehicle on Interstate 25, then disappeared into the night.

But Schmitz's attorney, Walter Gerash, said Breeden's suicide amounted to a confession that he was responsible, not Schmitz. Gerash painted Breeden as a "hateful, degenerate misfit" who lived off his family's fortune.

A Denver District Court jury deliberated more than six hours over two days before clearing Schmitz on two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of leaving the scene of an accident.

The acquittal ends a trial that captured national attention with its peek into the lifestyles of Colorado's rich. It also was a local sensation, involving the wayward scion of a well-known family and his circle of acquaintances from Denver's nightclubs _ including Schmitz, a German artist.