Chapter 1: 'The system has let me down'
Days before Denver Police say he murdered a 77-year-old man inside his Cheesman Park home, Brian Murray called 911 asking for officers to kill him.
What happened next is a case study in how the U.S. health care and criminal justice systems continue to have cracks wide enough for someone like Murray to fall right through.
Murray admitted even he was surprised when a Boulder County judge let him leave jail on something known as a PR, or personal recognizance, bond. Days before the November 2021 court hearing, Murray had repeatedly called 911, insisting that he was ready for police officers to kill him.
“I’m not going to lie. I was shocked,” Murray told me over the phone. The PR bond let him leave without posting a bond at all.
The next day, desperate and in need of cash to get out of the state, the man with a long history of incarceration and mental illness went into the Denver home of Stu Hoebel, 77.
“Do you think if they didn’t release you that Stu would still be alive,” I asked him during that phone call.
“Absolutely. 100%,” Murray said.
It’s a simplistic answer to a complicated question. Murray didn’t interact with only the criminal justice system in the days before the Hoebel murder a year ago. Two hospitals let him go as well.
Hoebel’s widow said the responsibility rests with the entire mental health and criminal justice system and not just on one decision made in a Boulder County courtroom.
“I lost not only my partner, my sense of stability, my security, my safety and my home. I lost my innocent sense of trust,” she said during the sentencing hearing for Murray earlier this year.
“Daily, I see my views of the world I lived in changing dramatically. The system has let me down,” she said.
An examination of that system is why we on the 9NEWS ORIGINALS team spent months looking into what happened and -- perhaps more importantly – what didn’t happen to Murray in the days leading to the murder of Stu Hoebel.
Our story starts shortly after nightfall on the evening of Nov. 14, 2021.
Chapter 2: Sunday
Molly McDaniel received a warning as she showed up for her shift as a 911 operator in Boulder County. A few calls already had come in from a man threatening what’s sometimes referred to as “suicide by cop.”
Not long after she got to her station, the mystery man called again.
“Will you promise me one thing?” asked the man who called himself “Chris.”
“What’s that?” McDaniel asked.
“They’re just gonna shoot. No questions,” the man replied.
“It was clear he needed help just by the things he was saying,” McDaniel told me. “You could tell he wanted to die.”
Eventually, McDaniel built up a sort of rapport with the caller.
“He asked you your name, and you told him. Why?” I asked her.
“Because that’s the best way to talk to people. With honesty,” she said.
While she was on the phone with “Chris,” Louisville Police officers were franticly searching for the man. They pinged his location near a hotel, but they weren’t sure precisely where he was.
“How concerned are you for the officers who are in the field at that time?” I asked McDaniel.
“Absolutely concerned,” she said.
During the 911 call, the man asked McDaniel to search for a YouTube video. “All you have to do is type ‘The Prison Life. The Hustle and Grind,’” he said. “I pop up immediately with my face talking through a sally port door.”
“Let me see,” McDaniel replied. “I see you.”
“So, Chris, let me ask you. Is that your real name?” McDaniel asked.
“No,” replied the caller.
“The guy on this Prison Life video is Brian Murray. Is that your name?” McDaniel asked.
“It is,” Murray replied.
Not long after, Louisville Police officers went to the front desk of a Quality Inn on West Dillon Road. Murray, they learned, was in Room 237. They knocked on the door before handcuffing him without incident. Murray asked for a cigarette before getting into the back of a police cruiser.
Instead of taking Murray to jail, officers determined it was more of a mental health issue. They first tried Centennial Peaks, a mental health hospital, but police records suggest Centennial Peaks didn’t want anything to do with Murray that night. The hospital had “only one person in intake” who worried about “her safety,” according to a police report.
They then opted for UCHealth Longs Peak.
Body camera footage reviewed by 9NEWS suggests Murray was initially confused by the trip to an ER instead of a jail.
“So, no charges?” he asked.
“No,” an officer said. “You’re going to an ER. You’re going to get medically cleared.”
“Hospital ain’t gonna do nothing,” Murray said as he sat, handcuffed, in the back of the officer’s car.
Not long after the officer dropped off Murray at the ER, Murray left.
“While Brian had not been evaluated … the hospital staff did not view him as a threat to himself,” a Louisville Police report says.
Murray told me more about the visit when I talked to him by phone while he was just beginning his prison sentence for the murder of Stu Hoebel.
"I told the security guard, I'm like, hey man, nobody is talking to me. So, I'm just gonna leave. And he's like I'll walk you off the property,” Murray said.
McDaniel found out the following day.
“It bothered me. It really bothered me because it seemed like he really needed help,” she said.
A statement from UCHealth read: “We are deeply saddened by the death of Stu Hoebel and offer our sincere condolences to his wife and family. Patient privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing medical information or confirming if someone has been a patient without first receiving a signed authorization.”
Chapter 3: Brian Murray
Brian Murray’s attorney told a judge during the sentencing for the Hoebel murder that Murray experienced abuse as a child. His mom died in the early 1990s. His stepmother took him to see a psychiatrist when he was 8.
Brian was open about his mental illness when I asked him about it during one of our multiple phone calls.
“Here’s the thing, Chris. My brain is really f—ed up,” he said. “If I feel like somebody was talking about me – they might not be, but I feel like they are – then my brain goes into this homicidal thing where I can’t control myself, and I feel like I need to get you before you get me.”
He stole his sister’s car when he was 15 and entered the prison system when he was 18 on a burglary case in Iowa, he said. When “The Prison Life” documentary crew came to the Iowa State Penitentiary in 2006, Brian was one of the inmates interviewed. He had long cuts on his arms.
“Cutting is just a thing for me,” he told me. “Once it’s in my brain, it’s like I got to do it. I have to. I don’t know why.”
In 2012, after mailing threats to judges and, among others, the president, Murray went to ADX Florence, the federal penitentiary in southern Colorado. He said he figured he spent most of his time in both prisons in solitary confinement.
He grew to like it that way, he said.
“I do like being by myself. I will always have a cell to myself,” he told me.
In 2018, his prison time was up.
“Was there any treatment for you when you left?” I asked him.
“No, they released me straight to the streets,” he said.
At first, it seemed, he started to make a life for himself. He met a woman. They married and formed a moving company.
That was how he and Paige Hoebel first crossed paths. He helped move some of her things. He later did some odd jobs for them, too.
“Did you know he was a felon?” I asked.
“No. I had no idea,” she said, adding that the moving company that hired him never told her.
During one of the moves, Brian acted oddly.
“He called me mom,” she said. “… I finally had to say to him, ‘Why are you calling me mom?’”
He stopped, but he occasionally called her asking for money.
“Did Stu think Brian was a little off?” I asked.
“We didn’t talk about it,” Paige Hoebel said.
Chapter 4: Tuesday
Two days after Murray repeatedly called 911 and told the operators, including McDaniel, that he wanted to die, he showed up at Louisville Police headquarters. He was considering taking a moving job in Texas and wanted to know whether he might still be in trouble for the calls.
Officers ordered him to the ground and handcuffed him in the parking lot.
“You guys couldn’t tell me this on the phone!” Murray screamed. His anger grew as they put him into the back of a police car. “How the fu— am I supposed to fit in there!”
Once again, officers didn’t take him to jail, but they didn’t take him to UCHealth Longs Peak again. Instead, they took him to Avista Adventist.
They sent multiple officers. They weren’t going to let him leave by himself again.
Body camera footage released by Boulder County prosecutors shows that multiple officers waited with Murray for hours. An arrest report says Murray went to Avista Adventist for a court-ordered mental health evaluation.
It’s not clear how the evaluation went, as officers with body cameras left the room when it was done. But not long after they returned, officers asked Murray whether he might help them find a gun he had told them he had tossed while staying at the Quality Inn.
Murray once again left a hospital.
“Due to patient privacy laws, we cannot share protected health information about our patients,” read a statement from Centura Health.
Body camera footage shows officers driving a handcuffed Murray to the hotel and asking where he might have hidden the gun. As a felon, he would have been legally prohibited from owning one. When officers realized his offer to help find the gun might not have been sincere, they took him to jail.
“What are my charges?” Murray asked.
“Right now … felony attempting to influence a public servant,” an officer said.
Chapter 5: Wednesday
While Murray made his initial appearance in front of a judge, Louisville Police officers renewed their search for the gun.
Prosecutors wanted an additional charge on a man they considered dangerous, said Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty.
As soon as officers found the gun, tossed in a grassy area near U.S. 36, they notified the District Attorney’s Office.
“Immediately, they moved to file an additional charge of possession of a weapon by a previous offender,” Dougherty said.
The problem was, about an hour or so earlier, a judge had granted Murray a PR bond.
> Below is audio from the court hearing:
“While there are a number of concerning things here, I just don’t think these statements [on the 911 calls] rise to the level of requiring a secured bond,” said Judge Zachary Malkinson.
It was precisely what Dougherty said his office did not want.
“His threats were incredibly concerning,” he told me.
A defense attorney disagreed during the brief court hearing captured on an audio recording obtained by 9NEWS. The calls represented threats to Murray himself, not to others.
“Filing of charges will be on Friday. We’ll see you on Friday,” Malkinson told Murray.
Murray never showed up for that hearing.
A spokesperson for Malkinson said the judge did not want to comment for this story.
Chapter 6: Thursday
Paige Hoebel was a little perturbed when she arrived home and noticed the garage door open. She called her husband.
“I’m calling him, and his phone goes directly to voicemail,” she said.
She texted him. Nothing.
“I called [Stu’s] daughter, and I said, ‘Julie, have you heard from your dad,’ and she goes, ‘No, I’ve been trying to reach him and I’m not getting called back either,’” Hoebel said.
She grew increasingly frustrated. She texted him again: “The dogs are here. The garage door was open. The piggy bank was empty. Very strange and inconsiderate.”
“That was my last text message,” she said. “And I don’t know why. I can’t tell you anything, but I started walking down the basement steps. There was a door that was opened up into his tool room. I opened the door.”
She then called 911.
“I think I just saw my husband dead in the house,” she told the 911 operator. “Oh my God. He’s dead.”
During a court hearing earlier this year, Denver Police Detective Jacob Huffine testified that Stu Hoebel was found facedown “in the tool room with his hands out to the side of him. … He appeared to have a wound on his head. It was bleeding. There was a significant amount of blood around him as well.”
The cause of death was “asphyxiation by ligature.”
“I will never see the old Stu,” Paige Hoebel said. “All I see is his dead body.”
Denver Police, acting with help from the FBI, found Murray in California a few days later. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in May and received a 60-year prison sentence.
Paige Hoebel said she agreed with the decision to enter into a plea agreement with Murray; however, she said she still feels let down.
“The system tells you if you ask for help, there’s help for you,” she said.
That wasn’t the case with Murray, she said.
Stu Hoebel was 77 years old. He and Paige met in 1997 and married in 2007.
“Absolutely the most gregarious, joking person,” she said. “Everybody was his friend, and everybody gravitated toward him.”
She said she figures Murray came to Stu in need of money and help. It ended with Stu’s death.
Murray will likely die in prison. He seems content with that now.
“Why should people care about Brian Murray?” I asked him one day on the phone.
“They shouldn’t,” he said. “Nobody should care about me.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that seems to be the same attitude the system had for Murray when he was first released from federal prison in 2018.
“Was there any treatment for you?” I asked him.
“No, I was literally released from ADX straight to the streets,” he said.
Paige Hoebel will spend the rest of her life contemplating the consequences of that.
“Is the system this broken?” she asked.
> Video below: 9NEWS reporter Chris Vanderveen talks about the six-month investigation he conducted with photographer Chris Hansen into this case:
More 9NEWS coverage on the murder of Stu Hoebel:
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