DENVER - The sentences of 281 Colorado prisoners are being reviewed by the judiciary after a Department of Corrections audit found possible problems with their cases. The audit is ongoing and could result in over 1,600 possible sentencing problems being sent to the courts for review, according to prison officials.
The 281 inmates are involved in 349 cases that were sent for the judicial review, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Allison Morgan. So far, judges have decided to amend the sentencing in 56 of those cases to require inmates to serve the sentences consecutively and not simultaneously.
"In some cases, it will only impact sentences by a few months," Morgan said, but she acknowledged others could be impacted more.
Documents sent to 7NEWS show the Department of Corrections started their audit with a pool of 8,415 inmates. Morgan said those inmates' files were reviewed by a temporary staff of "subject matter experts" made up of retired employees.
"Our temporary employees have been doing phenomenal work," Morgan said. "We expect that we will complete the initial review by the end of this week."
So far, the initial review has sent the files of 2,556 inmates, 35 percent of those reviewed so far, on to a secondary review. That stage, Morgan said, is being completed by current employees.
It is that secondary review that has so far sent the 281 offender files on to judicial review. That's equivalent to 56 percent of the files reviewed at that stage to date.
If that percentage remains consistent, over 1,400 of the files sent to the second stage so far would be sent on to the courts. More than 1,600 could be sent to that third level of review when all of the work is completed.
With several offenders involved in multiple cases, Morgan said, that may correspond to a significantly higher number of cases for the courts to review.
"This has been a daunting task for us, I can't imagine what it is like at judicial," Morgan said.
The Denver Post had earlier reported and 7NEWS repeated that 100 prisoners who served incorrect sentences were now parole absconders. Unbeknownst to us, that data was incorrect. We used it because the Department of Corrections had not yet shared the audit information with us.
Although Morgan said repeatedly in a telephone conversation with 7NEWS that she was working with respect to a 3:30 p.m. embargo, the data was not emailed to reporter Marshall Zelinger until 5 p.m.
During that conversation, Morgan explained she did not have any information available about the number of parole absconders who were released early. She was able to show that 17 of the files reviewed in the secondary stage of the audit so far were absconders and was willing to speculate that 56 percent of cases involving those convicts could have been sent to the courts for review.
The estimated number of current parole absconders who may have served incorrect sentences, therefore, is 10.
Eighteen other absconders' files remain to be reviewed by the second stage of the audit.
The audit was initiated after the revelation that Evan Ebel was mistakenly released early and is suspected of killing two people after absconding from his parole. The Department of Corrections expects their work on the audit to last until the end of June, with the judiciary requiring additional time to review the files sent on to that stage.
Ebel's sentence was reduced by four years because of a clerical error in court that failed to designate a judge's order that those additional years be served after the completion of an existing sentence.
Former Judge Jim Miller served on the bench in Douglas County for more than a decade. He applauds the move that could force some behind the bench to give old cases a second look.
"That's unusual, but I think the judges will be happy to do that and genuinely happy. They want to get this stuff right as much as anybody else wants them to get it right," said Miller in an interview with 7NEWS
Because that was not specifically marked in the document from the court, the Department of Corrections says they were required to assume the time could be served simultaneously.
As a result, Ebel was released into the parole system on January 28. On March 14, he cut off his ankle monitor and Nate Leon was killed three days later. Then, on March 19, Department of Corrections Chief Tom Clements was gunned down in the entryway of his Monument home.
Police say Ebel was fatally shot in the head during a gunfight with officers in Texas that followed a high-speed chase. Evidence found his car reportedly linked him to the murder of Leon and Clements.