Evan Spencer Ebel, the now deceased suspect in the March 19 murder of Colorado Corrections Chief Tom Clements, was let out of a Colorado state prison four years early, Colorado authorities acknowledged on Monday. Ebel was released on January 28, 2013, rather than January 28, 2017, as his court sentences required, due to a “tragic clerical error,” according to Pueblo County Colorado Commissioner Buffie McFadyen.
In 2005, Ebel, then 20 years old, was convicted by a Colorado court in connection to two armed robberies and sentenced to eight years in prison. In 2008, while serving that term, he pled guilty to assaulting a Colorado prison official. The judge who presided over that 2008 case sentenced him to four additional years in prison.
However, according to a statement issued on Monday by Charles M. Banton, Chief Judge of the 11th Judicial Court District of Colorado, the sentencing judge failed to explicitly state verbally at that time that the extra four years were “consecutive”–that is, added to his eight year term–and the clerk recorded the sentence, apparently on his or her own volition, as “concurrent”:
On April 9, 2008 defendant Evan Ebel entered into a written plea agreement. It stated that the district attorney and the defendant agreed that the defendant would plead guilty to Assault in the Second Degree and the court would impose a consecutive sentence of up to four years in the Department of Corrections, plus a mandatory three years of parole.
A sentencing hearing was held on June 11, 2008. The judge announced a sentence of four years in the Department of Corrections but did not state it was consecutive because it was already required by the terms of the plea agreement. Because the judge did not expressly state that the sentence was consecutive, the court judicial assistant did not include that term in the mittimus, the sentence order that went to the Department of Corrections.
The district has undertaken a review of its practices in an effort to avoid a re-occurrence of this circumstance.
Had the clerk properly recorded the sentence that the plea agreement explicit stated was to be served “consecutively,” Ebel would not have been released until 2017. Since the eight year sentence ended in January 2013, and the counting of the four years added in 2008 began incorrectly in that year, rather than in January 2013, the Colorado Corrections system released Ebel on January 28, 2013, rather than January 28, 2017.
The names of the sentencing judge and the errant clerk have not been released to the press.
Shortly after his release from prison, Ebel apparently persuaded a young woman to legally purchase a gun and then illegally give it to him. Under the terms of his parole, Ebel could not legally purchase a gun.
According to the Associated Press, “Colorado Bureau of Investigation agents on Wednesday arrested a suburban Denver woman suspected of legally purchasing a gun and then transferring it to Ebel. Records related to the arrest of Stevie Marie Vigil, 22, were sealed.”
On March 17, less than two months after Ebel’s release from prison, a pizza delivery driver, Nathan Leon, was shot and murdered in Denver, and local police believe that Ebel committed the crime.
Two days later, on March 19, 2013, someone shot Colorado Corrections Chief Tom Clements to death on his front porch. Two days later on March 21, 2013, after he shot and wounded a Texas Highway patrolman, Ebel was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Texas authorities in Decatur, Texas. The gun he used in that gunfight matched the gun used to kill Clements.
In his statement on Monday, Charles Banton, Chief Judge of the 11th Judicial District, expressed condolences to the families of the two men allegedly murdered by the man prematurely released by Colorado authorities. “The court regrets this oversight and extends condolences to the families of Mr. Nathan Leon and Mr. Tom Clements,” he said.
Nathan Leon’s widow found little solace in the judge’s statement. On Monday, Katie Leon told a Denver television station that “sorry ain’t going to bring my husband back.”
In a scathing critique of the fatal error made by Colorado’s 11th Judicial District, she added, “It makes me sick and it angers me something fierce, to sit there and think this could have all been prevented. I’m a thirty-year-old widow with two little four-year-olds (and) I have to go on the rest of my life explaining what happened to their dad.”
The video of her interview can be seen here: