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Bill would address sentencing mistakes

6:22 PM, Apr 25, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER- A late bill will be introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives in response to a sentencing error first identified by 9Wants to Know, multiple lawmakers confirmed to 9NEWS.

Our investigation found that Evan Ebel, the ex-con suspected of murdering Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements, was released four years too early.

Police say Ebel also murdered Nathan Leon before killing Clements.

Ebel died in a shootout with authorities in Texas, which seriously wounded a deputy there.

It's a chain of violence that all occurred while Ebel should have been behind bars.

"I was really shocked to find out that a four-year mistake could happen," said Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder), who is one of the lawmakers working on the bill.

A Fremont County judge intended Ebel to be sentenced consecutively in 2008 for assaulting a corrections officer.

That was not spelled out in the judge's order and the Department of Corrections interpreted the sentence to mean concurrent, rather than back-to-back

That's what state law says the prison system should have done with an order like that, something that makes no sense to several lawmakers from both parties.

"I don't think that we can expect [inmates] to say, 'no, I want to serve more time in prison' and voluntarily offer that information," said Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch).

Language for the bill is still being finalized, but supporters say the concept will be to ensure that sentences are interpreted as "consecutive" by default if there is any ambiguity about a judge's intent.

It would also create a duty for the corrections department to check with courts in the case of an unclear order.

With fewer than two weeks left to go in the legislative session, this is one of a handful of late bills expected to "fly through the process and have wide bipartisan support," according to House Speaker Mark Ferrandino.

Laws governing how sentences are administered by default vary in other states, and several have laws similar to the bill that is being proposed in Colorado.

McNulty thanked 9NEWS for exposing the mistake.

"Because it has been that bright light that's been shined on this issue that has really helped clarify what we can do in the waning days of the session to help keep the public safer," said McNulty. "It's an important role that the media plays and we appreciate that."

It's impossible to say what Ebel might have done after serving his full sentence in prison, but that doesn't mean they can't fix the error.

"I don't know that we can prevent bad things from happening, I don't think we can," said Levy. "But the intent of this bill is to make sure that offenders served the sentence that they're supposed to serve."

Lawmakers are looking at another possible change dealing with how prisons administer time off for good behavior, something else that factored in to Evan Ebel's release.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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