Parolee who befriended Tom Clements' murder suspect in prison says Evan Ebel struggled after release

Prison isolation: 'It turns you into a monster'

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Parolee, Ryan Pettigrew, said his friendship with Tom Clements' murder suspect, Evan Ebel, began in prison.

"We were both in Colorado State Penitentiary," he told 7NEWS Tuesday. "Over the years, we just passed messages back and forth and got to know each other. We would have conversations about philosophy and business, you know, how we're trying to better ourselves, and conditions of confinement."

Pettigrew was convicted of intimidation of a witness in Larimer County and served more than a decade in prison. He said he spent at least eight years in administrative segregation -- also known as solitary confinement. 

"You're in the cell the size of a bathroom. No human contact. It turns you into a monster," Pettigrew said. "Spending the amount of time that me and Evan (Ebel) and others have spent in 'ad-sig', you get over five years and you're nuts."

Pettigrew said his friendship with Ebel continued outside of prison and that Ebel called him once he was released on parole in January.

"He couldn't sleep. Couldn't do anything," Pettigrew said of Ebel. "(He) had to keep working out just to burn anxiety. He was struggling. He didn't known anybody that related to what he had been through besides me. So, you know, he was struggling pretty bad with it, as we all are after that."

7NEWS asked Pettigrew if Ebel shared any information about possible plans to carry out violence against Tom Clements.

"No way. In fact, I was completely caught off-guard," said Pettigrew.
 
Pettigrew said his communication with Ebel ended in early March, nearly two weeks before Nate Leon, a Denver husband, father and part-time Domino's Pizza employee, was robbed and killed during a delivery.
 
Two days later, the head of the state prison system, Tom Clements, was shot to death after he answered the door for a man disguised in a Domino's Pizza delivery uniform.
 
"Evan is a highly intelligent person, very disciplined," Pettigrew said. "I think, for anything, this was what he planned to do as his final get-back at the system. Whereas mine is to become successful and rub it in their face, his I guess, apparently had to be to hit them at a place where they thought that, you know, that they couldn't be touched," said Pettigrew.

Pettigrew said he still struggles with what he endured during years spent in prison isolation. He's also sued the Colorado Department of Corrections, claiming prison conditions violated his constitutional rights.

"It’s just a constant battle for all those years and then, (it's assumed that) 'These guys are inherently evil.' No, we’re not. We need to be punished, but we also need to be taught how to live out here," Pettigrew said.