STERLING – In a legal first, a Colorado prisoner has successfully used the state's Make My Day Law to defend himself in a prison killing. The inmate prosecutors say he killed was stabbed 90 times.
Prosecutors had charged Antero Alaniz with murder in the 2011 death of inmate Cleveland Flood inside the Sterling Correctional Facility, but in December 2014, a judge quietly dismissed the case against Alaniz citing the state's "Make my Day Law."
The law, passed by the Colorado legislature in 1985, allows any "occupant of a dwelling" to use "any degree of physical force" against someone who has broken into the home and poses a threat - no matter how slight - to the home's residents.
Flood, considered an habitual criminal by the courts, was serving a 48-year sentence for burglary. An autopsy shows he sustained 90 stab wounds all over his body. More than two years after his death, prosecutors charged Antero Alaniz and his cellmate, Aaron Bernal, with second-degree murder.
The case against Bernal remains open, but it's widely expected he will try to use the same defense.
Alaniz claims he and Bernal killed Flood after Flood entered their cell uninvited. He also claims Flood was armed with a shank at the time.
Flood's mother did not know about the case's dismissal until she was notified by 9Wants to Know.
"I don't think it should have been [dismissed]," Linda Sanchez told Reporter Chris Vanderveen. "Not in prison ... not in prison. Maybe out here when somebody tries to break into your home, but not in prison."
Logan County District Attorney Brittny Lewton was equally concerned about the ruling.
"We really had no belief that a court would find in any way that a prison cell was a dwelling," she said.
She said her office plans to appeal the decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals in large part because of its implications for the state's prison system.
There are currently more than 17,000 inmates serving time with the Colorado Department of Corrections.
"I think [the ruling] could limit how the Department of Corrections is able to run a safe facility," she said.
Lewton said inmates are frequently moved and constantly under the supervision of DOC staff. She worries other inmates could use the defense to try to justify a prison killing.
In fact, in 2014, two inmates were under suspicion of killing inmate Cody Gray inside Sterling Correctional. The case shows striking similarities to the Flood case.
Sterling Correctional has seen six of the state's last nine murders, making it the most dangerous prison in Colorado.
One of the original sponsors of what was originally titled the "Colorado Homeowner Protection Act" told 9Wants to Know he agrees with District Court Judge Charles Hobbs' decision to dismiss the case against Alaniz.
"A prison is in fact a dwelling for several thousand people in Colorado," said Jim Brandon. "[Alaniz's] prison cell is his home, and had the individual who is now deceased not crossed his threshold than [Alaniz] wouldn't have had any right to take the action he did."
Since 1985, Colorado has experienced a large reduction of home burglaries. The National Archive of Criminal Justice Data shows a 71 percent reduction in burglary in Colorado since the passage of Make My Day. While the country has seen a reduction as well, Brandon feels Colorado's sharp drop can be attributed, at least in part, to Make My Day.
The law has been used quite a bit to defend homeowners from killing intruders, but it's believed Alaniz is the first person to use it to successfully claim that a prison cell is a "dwelling" in the eyes of the law.
**Editor's Note: In the original airing of this story on 9NEWS, the graphic showed a different area where Flood was housed. 9NEWS has since corrected that video and has uploaded the corrected version.**
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