DENVER - The State of Colorado has adjusted sentences of 56 prisoners after an ongoing audit discovered mistakes were made in their sentencing, 9Wants to Know has confirmed.
The audit was ordered after 9Wants to Know discovered a court error lead to suspected murder Evan Ebel being released from prison four years too early. Seven weeks after he was released, police say he murdered pizza driver Nate Leon and Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Clements.
Clements' temporary replacement Roger Werholtz said in an interview you will only see on 9NEWS that he wasn't surprised to see some mistakes in Colorado's system.
"Sentencing laws are so complex it's not unusual to find some mistakes," Werholtz said. "The technology is just not good enough yet to promise certainty [in sentencing]."
The Department of Corrections has reviewed 594 cases that had consecutive sentences as part of the audit. The State Judicial Branch is now reviewing those cases. So far, they have adjusted 56 sentences and found 250 were correctly sentenced. Of the cases already with the courts, 56 still need to be reviewed.
The state's prison system has only looked at about one-fifth of all the sentences it will eventually review.
"There are a large number of cases to be reviewed," Werholtz said.
Ebel died in a police shootout in Texas on March 21.
Ebel started serving an eight-year prison sentence in 2005 after pistol whipping a man, stealing a car and breaking into a home. While in prison, Ebel punched a guard in the face.
In a plea agreement, he accepted a four-year sentence to be served consecutively to his other prison time, but at sentencing, a judge failed to say whether the new sentence was to be served consecutively or concurrently.
State-case law requires the Department of Corrections to interpret a sentence that doesn't specify concurrent or consecutive, to be considered a concurrent sentence.
Ebel was released Jan. 28 without ever serving time for assaulting the corrections officer.
The audit is looking at a total of 8,415 offenders whose crimes mandated any sentence they receive to be served consecutive to any other time they serve.
So far, the Department of Corrections has reviewed 594 cases out of a total of nearly 2,500 cases that need review.
As of Tuesday, the Department of Corrections has forwarded cases with questionable sentences to the Colorado State Judicial Branch for further review.
If staff and justices there is a problem with the sentence, a judge could issue a new sentence order.
The Colorado State Judicial Branch has not provided 9Wants to Know with exact numbers for how many offenders' sentences have been changed.
The audit only reviews sentences for the following crimes that mandate a consecutive sentence. The Department of Corrections says it would be too costly to review every inmate's sentences in the state.
The current audit covers:
- Assault in the first degree - if the offense was while lawfully confined or in custody
- Assault in the second degree - if the offense was while lawfully confined or in custody
- Assault during escape
- Attempted escape
- Aiding escape
- Riots in detention facilities
- Holding hostages
- Possession of weapons by previous offenders
- Crime of violation of a protection order
- Violation of bail bond
- Sex offenses with an additional offense arising out of the same incident.
MURDER INVESTIGATION CONTINUES
Ebel has been considered the chief suspect in the Leon and Clements, but the investigation is still ongoing. Investigators are still conducting interviews to determine whether other people may have been involved in the murder, a spokesman with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office told 9Wants to Know investigative reporter Jace Larson.
Ebel was out of prison for less than two months when police say he first killed Leon on March 17.
Leon's family members say Leon was shot multiple times in the chest as he was delivering a pizza ordered from a payphone. Leon was working a second job as a pizza deliveryman so his family could have some extra money.
Clements was shot in the doorway of his home near Monument two days later.