A woman who once faced life behind bars before the Colorado Supreme Court threw out her conviction is now a giant step closer to getting out of prison.
A Denver Community Corrections Board decided Wednesday that Lisl Auman can be moved from jail to a halfway house. All of the 20 members present voted in favor of Auman's application.
The widow of police officer Bruce VanderJagt had asked the board to approve the move, and the board had to come to an agreement before Auman is formally sentenced on Monday.
Anna VanderJagt said Auman, 29, has taken responsibility for her part in VanderJagt's death. She said she understands how and why the plea deal with Auman was made and wanted the application approved.
"Those events put into motion by Auman caused the tragic death of my husband," Anna VanderJagt wrote. "Nearly eight years after the fact, Auman seems to take some responsibility for this murder when she recently pleaded guilty to burglary and accessory to murder."
Auman was handcuffed and in the back seat of a police car when an acquaintance of hers killed Bruce VanderJagt in 1997.
But because Auman was part of the original crime and allegedly failed to help police with information at the scene, she was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Then in March, the original sentence was overturned by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the jury in her trial had received improper instructions.
Instead of undergoing another trial, Auman last month agreed to a plea deal in which she pleaded guilty to burglary and accessory charges.
As part of the agreement, prosecutors asked for a sentence of up to 20 years in community corrections, with credit for the eight years she's already served in prison.
On Wednesday, a board approved that move but a judge, and the halfway house, must also approve of the move. The Denver District Court judge will review the sentence in a hearing Monday.
Officials with the Tooley Hall halfway house have 24 hours to decide whether to accept Auman.
If either rejects her request, Auman could go back to prison or she could withdraw her plea and stand trial in the case.
Her defense attorney had said that she didn't want a new trial because she wanted to avoid any further pain for the VanderJagts and her family.
Auman's case caught the nation's attention after celebrities including the late Hunter S. Thompson and Warren Zevon rallied for her freedom. They and other supporters questioned the fairness of Colorado's felony murder law that sent her to prison for life with no chance of parole.
VanderJagt's brother-in-law, Robert Simonich, has criticized the deal, saying VanderJagt wasn't given the same kind of second chance that Auman is getting.
But the officer's widow, Anna VanderJagt, who lives in New Mexico with her 10-year-old daughter and new husband, said in a July 29 letter to the Community Corrections board that she supported the lighter sentence.
If Auman is accepted into the halfway-house program, her activities and behavior would be monitored, and she would get help with finding a job and job training. Her sentence could be reduced by up to three years if she performs well in the program.
Auman had recruited Mattheus Jaehnig to help her break into a former boyfriend's house in Jefferson County to retrieve some of her belongings. Officers chased the two to a Denver condominium complex, where Jaehnig killed VanderJagt and then killed himself.
Before the shootings, Auman had been handcuffed and placed in a patrol car. When she was asked if Jaehnig was armed, she said, "I don't know what you're talking about," according to court documents.
Under Colorado's felony murder law, anybody involved in certain felonies is guilty of murder if somebody is killed during the crime or during the flight from it.
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