FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. - The widow of Nathan Leon blasted a court clerical error that released her husband's suspected killer from prison four years early.
"Sorry ain't going to bring my husband back," a weeping Katherine Leon said of an apologetic statement issued Monday by the chief judge and administrator of the 11th Judicial District.
"It makes me sick and it angers me something fierce, to sit there and think this could have all been prevented," the Commerce City woman told 7NEWS. "I'm a 30-year-old widow with two little 4-year-olds (and) I have to go on the rest of my life explaining what happened to their dad."
Evan Spencer Ebel was released from prison in January and authorities say he is now linked by evidence to the murders of Nathan Leon and Colorado prison chief Tom Clements last month. Just days after the killings, Ebel was fatally shot in a gunfight with Texas law enforcement officers.
On Monday, the 11th Judicial District confirmed that Ebel was released from prison four years early due to a mistake in how the Fremont County District Court communicated the sentence.
"The court regrets this oversight and extends condolences to the families of Mr. Nathan Leon and Mr. Tom Clements," said the statement by Chief Judge Charles M. Barton and District Administrator Walter Blair.
Eben was already serving an eight-year prison sentence when he pleaded guilty to a 2006 assault on a prison guard at the Fremont Correctional Facility.
According to the court statement, Ebel's 2008 written plea agreement in the assault was supposed to impose a consecutive sentence of up to four years -- in other words, it was supposed to add four years to his existing eight-year prison sentence.
Because that written stipulation was part of the plea deal, the court statement says, the judge never said expressly that it was a consecutive sentence. Therefore the court never recorded that key fact on a document called the "mittimus," a sentencing order given to the Department of Corrections.
The Department of Corrections is required to assume a sentence is concurrent -- or served simultaneously -- unless it is otherwise noted in the paperwork they are given.
Nathan Leon's father and stepmother, John and Jaye Leon, and his mother, Cindy Jones, issued this statement:
"It is sad and tragic that our son, Nathan Leon and Mr. Tom Clements were murdered because people didn't pay attention to details. Processes are being reviewed only after two senseless murders.
"We, Nathan's parents, have not been contacted by any official with an apology. The media has reported that the courts have apologized. To whom? Hearing an apology through the media does not seem sincere."
District Attorney Thom LeDoux said he does not believe the problem is widespread, but added that he will consider a review of similar cases to make sure there were no other mistakes.
"Obviously we'll work to rectify the problem, identify another other problems and fix it as quickly as possible," LeDoux said.
Governor John Hickenlooper's office released a statement in response to the acknowledged mistake: "The Colorado Department of Corrections values its long-standing partnership with the 11th Judicial District and the District Attorney’s office to maintain order at the prisons in Canon City. We commend both the 11th Judicial District and the DOC for reviewing their own internal processes and procedures."
District Attorney Thom LeDoux said he does not believe the problem is widespread, but he will consider a review of similar cases to make sure there were no other mistakes.
--Statement from the Judicial District Administrator for the Eleventh Judicial District:
The district court, in response to media inquiry, has reviewed the record in Fremont County case number 07CR105, People of the State of Colorado v. Evan Ebel. This response is from the district administrator and the chief judge. A judge of the district does not comment directly on his own cases. A transcript of the proceedings can be ordered through the Office of the Clerk of Court, Deborah Sather-Stringari at (719) 269-0100 or the state court website which can be found at www.courts.state.co.us, go to courts on the menu, select court by county, choose Fremont and follow instructions for Research Form and/or Transcript Form.
On April 9, 2008 defendant Evan Ebel entered into a written plea agreement. It stated that the district attorney and the defendant agreed that the defendant would plead guilty to Assault in the Second Degree and the court would impose a consecutive sentence of up to four years in the Department of Corrections, plus a mandatory three years of parole.
A sentencing hearing was held on June 11, 2008. The judge announced a sentence of four years in the Department of Corrections but did not state it was consecutive because it was already required by the terms of the plea agreement. Because the judge did not expressly state that the sentence was consecutive, the court judicial assistant did not include that term in the mittimus, the sentence order that went to the Department of Corrections.
The district has undertaken a review of its practices in an effort to avoid a re-occurrence of this circumstance.
The court regrets this oversight and extends condolences to the families of Mr. Nathan Leon and Mr. Tom Clements.