News Column

Court That Released Ebel Early Offers Apology

April 2, 2013

Jakob Rodgers, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

A district judge's decision to cut short the reading of Evan Ebel's last prison sentence in 2008 led to the troubled inmate being freed up to four years too early, officials with the 11th Judicial District conceded Monday.

And a clerical error left the judge's abbreviated remarks in court record.

The revelation led court officials to publicly acknowledge on Monday that Ebel should have been in prison two weeks ago, when he is suspected of killing two men, one of them the Colorado Department of Corrections' Executive Director Tom Clements.

In a statement, leaders with the 11th Judicial District -- which oversees Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park counties -- expressed regret for the "oversight." A review of the district's practices is under way.

"It's certainly a clerical error," said Scott Robinson, who was Ebel's attorney from 2003 through 2005. "You can arguably say it's a judicial and prosecutorial error as well."

Ebel -- a parolee with ties to a white supremacist gang -- is suspected of gunning Clements down on March 19 at the door of Clements' Monument-area home. Investigators also suspect Ebel killed Nathan Leon, a Denver pizza deliveryman, two nights earlier.

The last plea deal Ebel signed mandated he remain in prison, possibly until 2017.

Ebel punched a prison guard in the face in November 2006, a day after the guard used inappropriate language while responding to Ebel's "negative remarks," according to court records.

Ebel pleaded guilty to second-degree assault -- agreeing to serve up to four years in prison, along with three years of mandatory parole.

The deal called for that sentence to be served consecutively -- beginning once his eight-year prison sentence for a separate assault ended this year.

While announcing the sentence in court on June 11, 2008, however, District Judge David Thorson neglected to mention that the prison term was consecutive, "because it was already required by the terms of the plea agreement," according to the judicial district's statement.

Without hearing a mention of a consecutive sentence, a clerk left out the detail while typing the sentencing order, the statement said.

The Colorado Department of Corrections automatically calculates prison sentences to run concurrently when the sentencing order doesn't stipulate one way or the another, the department said in a statement, which cited case law.

Thorson signed off on the sentencing order a day after the hearing, as did a court clerk. Copies of the order were sent to the District Attorney and Ebel's attorney, Samuel McClure, according to court documents.

Leon's sister-in-law said the slain man's family was "outraged and shocked" to learn of the error late last week, the Denver Post reported. They plan to seek legal representation.

"Had this not happened, my sister would have her husband, my nieces would have their father, and me, my family, and so many others would have an incredible soul that was Nate," Amber Lane, 32, told the Denver Post.

It is "rare" for a sentencing order -- or mittimus, as they're referred to in court -- to be wrong, but it does happen on occasion, Robinson said.

"It happens, it happens and nobody's perfect," Robinson said. "What's extraordinary about this case is the incredible consequences of this really, rather mundane sentencing order."

Source: (c)2013 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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