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Murder-for-hire suspect Chris Wells collects money while in prison

7:46 AM, Aug 8, 2013   |    comments
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DOUGLAS COUNTY - There is just so much pain and loss one heart can take.

Tammy Rafferty's heart may have reached its limit two years ago when her husband Bob Rafferty and sister-in-law Amara Wells were murdered inside their Douglas County home.

PART ONE OF THE INVESTIGATION: Murder-for-hire plot survivor scared for her life

"Bob. You just say his name, and you have a smile," Rafferty said.

She misses him every day, and every day, she tries to fill her heart with love.

"I'm a very positive person," Rafferty said. "I look at my life, and I realize I can look at things and say what I don't have, or I can look at things and be grateful for what I did get."

Rafferty's brother Chris Wells is in prison for the murders. Investigators say he hired people to kill his estranged wife Amara and the people who were giving her shelter for six months, Bob and Tammy Rafferty. According to court records and investigators, Chris and Amara Wells were in the middle of an ugly divorce, with Chris repeatedly violating protection orders and being arrested for it. In fact, he was in jail at the time of the murders of his soon-to-be-ex-wife and brother-in-law.

"I think of him as dead," Tammy said of her brother.

Sergeant Jason Weaver with the Douglas County Sheriff's Department was the main investigator on the case.

"Through the interviews with all the suspects in this case, we were able to show that Chris Wells had promised Josiah Sher $10,000 to kill Amara Wells and then another $5,000 for every other family member in that house."

Tammy's life was spared because she was out of town on business on Feb. 23, 2011.

"I sometimes feel like this has happened to somebody else's family," Tammy said. "You just kind of feel like, 'How could this have ever happened to us?!'"

Chris Wells pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and has been in prison for over a year. Tammy says she's still concerned for her life. She carries a gun and knows how to use it.

"I don't feel safe," Tammy said. "Especially when I was able to find out that he is receiving money."

Since being incarcerated, Chris Wells has been receiving $300 a month.

Records from the Colorado Department of Corrections show a man by the name of Garth Willson is making the monthly deposits. Investigators interviewed Willson three times while looking into the murders. He was never named as a suspect or a person of interest.

In an interview with investigators, Chris Wells called Willson his "best friend." In recorded interviews, Willson told police he and Chris Wells weren't that close. Willson said they were business associates. About seven months before the murders, Chris Wells gave Willson $75,000. It wasn't a loan. It was money Willson was asked to hold on to:

Detective: "Did [Wells] offer any reason?"
Willson: "He didn't want Amara to find it."

Through his lawyer, Willson declined to tell 9NEWS why he's putting money into the prison account of a convicted murderer. As of the end of July, Chris Wells has $3,567.67 in his DOC bank account.

"He's close to having the $5,000 that he had on my head. He's close to having that now," Tammy said.

Former Douglas County prosecutor Brett Cochran was on the team of people who put Wells away for life.

"I think Chris Wells needs three things in order to murder again. One: he needs financial resources. And your investigation reveals that he has money," Cochran said. "Two: he needs to find somebody that is willing to carry out these horrific acts, just like he found Josiah Sher, and he's in the Department of Corrections, where there is a lot of hardened criminals, a lot of violent people who are getting paroled every day. I think he's going to be able to find somebody that's willing to do this for money. Three: he needs a motive. So the question is, does he have a motive? He had a motive to kill his sister Tammy Rafferty. He acted on it, and he failed. I believe he still has that motive. Whether he's willing to put all this behind him and move on, I don't know, you have to ask Chris Wells that. The reality is I think Chris Wells is a danger to our society and I think he has the resources and the capability to murder again."

"It's difficult to use money in prison for a transaction," Roger Werholtz, the outgoing Interim Executive Director of the DOC, said. "I understand their [victims'] concern completely. I think it would be very difficult for him to use that bank balance that is in his DOC account to harm them."

Werholtz says inmates aren't limited to how much money they can save up. Most eventually get out and need the funds to survive outside prison walls. Inmates can't write a check, but they can ask for a money order with approval. Of course, Chris Wells will never leave prison due to his life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"There are ways to manage those transactions to limit the possibility of misuse," Werholtz said. "It's never going to be perfect. It's never going to be fail-safe, but I think it can be responsibly managed."

Werholtz described Chris Wells' more than $3,500-balance as "high." The average inmate has $51 in their account. But the DOC told 9NEWS it doesn't want to limit the amount of money inmates can amass.

"It's sometimes difficult for us to write policy for everybody except people who have a conviction where the circumstances of the case are murder for hire," Werhotlz said. "And then, we'll find another circumstance and another circumstance."

Werholtz said 9NEWS asking questions raised a different red flag within the agency, a possibility of a change in how fast restitution is paid back to the victims.

"As an inmate accumulates larger and larger amounts of funds over time, I think it's reasonable to take a look at increasing the amount of those funds that are withdrawn and direct it towards restitution and child support in particular," he said.

Every month, Chris Wells pays 20 percent of the $300 deposited towards restitution. That's $60. The DOC says he owes around $34,000, at $60 per month, he'll be paying that for a long time. How long? It would take 47 years to pay it back at that rate.

"We'll take a look where there is a more appropriate use for that money such as restitution, and again, not just in the particular offender's case, but all the offenders in our care," Werholtz said. "And make sure that they have repaid their victims and try to restore some of the damage they've done. It can never be repaired for the Rafferty family, obviously, what we can do is try to assure them that we're going to manage any expenditures out of those accounts as best we can and make sure the individuals in our care meet their responsibilities."

There's only so much pain a heart can take. Tammy Rafferty's reached its limit two years ago.

"My husband and sister-in-law were murdered when [Chris Wells] was in jail," Tammy said. "That's the reality we live with."

Prior to the 2011 murders, in 1997, while in jail in Virginia for violating a protection order his ex-girlfriend obtained, (not Amara Wells) Chris Wells was accused of trying to hire a fellow inmate to hurt her.

Court documents show months earlier the woman broke up with Chris Wells, but he refused to accept that. He violated the protection order in that case several times and eventually was convicted of trespassing. Chris Wells was also charged with soliciting to commit a felony.

According to court documents, Chris Wells tried to hire an inmate to hurt his ex-girlfriend and mess up her apartment. 9NEWS has obtained police records that show Chris Wells wrote out the instructions for the would-be hit and drew a map of where everything was. Records show Chris Wells promised the man money and drugs for the assault.

Those charges were dismissed at trial because the prosecution's key witness - the former inmate Chris Wells allegedly solicited - didn't show up to testify.

More reason, Tammy Rafferty says Chris Wells should not have access to a lot of money in prison.

"People who are doing time for murder-for-hire cannot have access to large amount of money. No one is safe in that scenario," she said.

9NEWS contacted Chris Wells and his attorney Tina Tussay.

We wanted to know why Chris Wells needed so much money in prison: How did he plan to use it? Why Wilson was depositing money into his account every month and should Tammy be afraid for her life?

Chris Wells declined an interview but wrote 9NEWS a letter. In there, he said in part, "It's a shame the family has not moved on from this. I took a plea deal not because of guilt, but to spare my daughter years of agonizing trials and media scrutiny."

Chris Wells went on to write, "Tammy Rafferty is not afraid for her life. She's attempting to seek revenge for the death of her husband."

Chris Wells' attorney declined to speak on camera as well but issued this statement: "Mr. Wells has never expressed anything but sincere remorse over the incident and gratitude to family members for taking care of his daughter. I have no reason to believe that any of the family or anyone else have reason to fear for their safety. Mr. Wells is serving his time and paying his debt to society in prison, so that their lives can continue uninterrupted."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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