BOULDER, Colo. -- The well-connected mother of a rapist released on parole may have tried to influence her son’s case after he violated parole rules and was rearrested, a letter from the Colorado Board of Parole alleges.
Christopher Lawyer is a convicted rapist, deemed by the state to be a “sexually violent predator,” whose freedom was briefly granted in September and then revoked months later by the parole board.
Christopher Lawyer’s mother, Dianna Lawyer-Brook, worked as an advocate for the rehabilitation of sex offenders, and was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to a state advisory council alongside the state’s top parole officials.
Phone calls recorded between the mother and her son, who was incarcerated at the Boulder County jail, created concern among law enforcement that she was trying to help her son’s situation by reaching out to people in power not normally available to the public.
Listen to portions of the calls in the player below or by clicking here.
“When I told you before that I wasn't going to call the big guns until there was a reason, this is the reason,” Lawyer-Brook is heard telling her son in one of the recorded calls, when she recounted calling parole board members on their cell phone to find out why he was re-arrested on parole violations.
Lawyer-Brook says she made those calls to parole officials because she was worried about her son and was simply trying to get information. She is never heard in the calls directly saying she thought her connections could get him out of jail. But questions about the mother’s “perceived influence” prompted concern from the sex offender’s new neighbors, the prosecutors who locked him up, and the parole board itself – concern detailed in months of public records obtained by Denver7 Investigates.
“A very serious and violent offense”
Christopher Lawyer’s crime spree in the spring of 2000 launched a manhunt and captured headlines.
Investigators in Boulder said Lawyer broke into a college student’s home, and, in a separate incident, waved a gun at three other women while impersonating a police officer. Investigators believed he intended to sexually assault those women. He then kidnapped a woman who was delivering newspapers and sexually assaulted her, police said at the time.
“There was a particularly violent and extensive sexual assault of the fifth woman,” Boulder County’s First Assistant District Attorney Katharina Booth told Denver7 Investigates. “He was Boulder County's first sex offender that was ever designated… [as a] ‘sexually violent predator.’”
Published reports from 2000 indicate Lawyer was previously sentenced to probation for groping a teenager at a water park and had a prior arrest for indecent exposure.
Lawyer served about 16 years in prison for the Boulder rape before the parole board agreed in August to release him on parole. He left prison in September.
“We were quite surprised he was paroled. I have myself reviewed the sentencing transcript from when he was originally prosecuted,” said Booth, who was not the original prosecutor on the case. “It was clear that the intention of the court, both the sentencing judge at that time and the prosecutor, believed that this was an offender that, based on indeterminate sentencing laws, would remain in prison for much longer than what he served.”
Booth says at least one victim was not only never notified of the pending parole hearing, the victim also was never notified of Lawyer’s release – learning he was out of prison from reading the newspaper one morning.
Uproar in an affluent Boulder neighborhood
Upon Christopher Lawyer’s release on parole in the fall of 2016, he moved into his mother’s home in an affluent Boulder neighborhood.
“He did well in therapy and passed all the criteria. He was paroled because he met criteria and had a supportive home to return to,” Lawyer-Brook told Denver7 Investigates of her son in an emailed statement. “I am a mother who has seen her son turn his life around and become determined to do well, be successful in the community and eventually give back to his community.”
Christopher Lawyer was already living with his mother and gaining publicity for his release before local authorities organized a community meeting to notify neighbors about the “sexually violent predator.” Boulder’s newspaper, the Daily Camera, reported that meeting drew 200 people.
“We'd just bought a house and moved in two to three months before that,” neighbor Mark Fisher told Denver7. “I was very surprised that I found out about it after the fact, after he was released, so it wasn't like we could prepare for it or anything. It's kind of a shock, all of a sudden that you have a rapist living nearby you.”
Neighbors began contacting parole administrators with their concerns and requesting public records about Lawyer’s record and parole monitoring from the state. Neighbors learned from those public records that Lawyer had ventured onto a trail he was not allowed to use, and that a parole officer had discovered books, described as violent and pornographic, in his room – both violations of the terms of the parole. One record shows a neighbor called Lawyer’s parole officer directly asking why he wasn’t arrested for the pornography.
When Christopher Lawyer showed up a day late for a required drug test, claiming the recorded message telling him when to report gave him the incorrect hours, parole administrators decided to arrest him.
Internal parole documents obtained by Denver7 Investigates show the intense pressure from the neighborhood may have influenced the decision to take Lawyer into custody:
“It was decided the offender would be arrested due to this case being high profile. [Lawyer] had several prior technical violations that were of significance and he was advised that if he had any further violations he would be going in front of the parole board,” a note from Lawyer’s parole officer reads.
Internal records also show a parole board member called Lawyer’s parole officer on her cell phone inquiring about his arrest in the days after he was taken into custody.
Calling the “big guns”
Recorded jail phone calls indicate Dianna Lawyer-Brook jumped into action when her son was arrested, tapping into a network of contacts in the world of parole she made through her professional work as an advocate for sex offender treatment and rehabilitation.
Lawyer-Brook worked with Colorado Circles of Support and Accountability, which on its website says its mission is to “equip and support community organizations in establishing Circles of volunteers who support the healthy transition and reentry of people who have committed sex offenses and are now eligible for community living.”
In 2015, Gov. Hickenlooper appointed Lawyer-Brook to the Governor’s Community Corrections Advisory Council as a “victims/prisoners’ advocate.” Other members of that advisory council include the commissioner of the Department of Corrections and the chairman of the parole board.
In the first recorded call, Lawyer-Brook tells her son about conversations she had trying to figure out the reasons for her son’s arrest and when he would have a hearing, first speaking with staff in the parole office who she said told her the parole board ordered that he be arrested “if he did anything at all.”
Dianna Lawyer-Brook: So I called the parole board which I guess you normally can't do but I have their cell phones, right?
Christopher Lawyer: Right, right.
Lawyer-Brook: So I called the parole board and they said that's bulls---, that they didn't have any directive like that. And they can't give directives like that.
Lawyer-Brook then told her son she began calling parole administrators trying to get answers.
“When I told you before that I wasn't going to call the big guns until there was a reason, this is the reason,” Lawyer-Brook said. She told her son that through her advocacy work she saw many parolees fail numerous drug tests without being arrested, yet he had apparently been arrested simply for showing up too late for a drug test.
In a later phone call, Lawyer-Brook rattled off the names of high-ranking parole officials she called in an attempt to get answers.
Lawyer-Brook: This may be a really long fight. I thought just calling Alison would take care of it, and I haven't talked to Alison. I mean I've still got plenty of stuff that I can do.
Dianna: I mean, I have lots of stuff I can do. But the easy way isn't happening. So, I don't know.
Dianna: Well I'm upset because, um, you know, I tried a couple phone calls, and you know, I wasn't getting any progress with anything.
Later in that call, Lawyer-Brook said, “I haven't heard back from Susan, so the easy way is not happening. And that was kind of a longshot.”
The district attorney’s office began monitoring the jailhouse phone calls and relayed Lawyer-Brook’s comments to her son’s parole officer in an email.
“Interesting stuff he is saying and what mom is saying about how she can call the parole officers herself and has done so already on their personal cell phone numbers that she has. Why do they indulge that? It adds to community suspicion (which I heard repeatedly on Monday in the meeting we held at our office) of the appearance of impropriety that she has a direct line to parole board,” Booth wrote in an email obtained by Denver7 Investigates.
In the phone calls, Lawyer-Brook never directly says that she intended to ask anyone to get her son out of jail or to get him any special treatment. And she says now that was never her intention.
“I trusted the system until I saw to what lengths some neighbors were going to try to get Chris back in prison. I became very upset and worried. My contacting anyone was mostly just trying to find out what was going on. It appeared that the upset neighbors had more information than I did concerning therapy and parole,” Lawyer-Brook wrote in an email to Denver7 Investigates. “My conversations on the phone with Chris were about me trying to calm both Chris and myself.”
But her comments clearly rubbed the prosecutor’s office, the state’s administration and the parole board the wrong way.
In one email, a state official wrote: “It would appear that some boundaries are being crossed with this treatment provider.”
And in a fiery letter, the parole board’s chairman blasted Lawyer-Brook’s recorded comments.
“What is of great disappointment, and of even greater concern to the Colorado Parole Board, is that a professional relationship with the Board has been flaunted as a personal relationship, for personal gain,” the parole chair Joe Morales wrote. “Ms. Lawyer-Brook’s documented statements have brought the integrity of the Board, and its members, into question. These statements and innuendos are personally offensive to the Board, its members, the constituents of Colorado, and to the Colorado Governor’s Office.”
An unclear future
State officials told Denver7 Investigates the board also had the option to revoke Lawyer’s parole for the remainder of his sentence, but ruled in December to send Christopher Lawyer back to prison for six months for parole violations.
The state parole board said its chairman could not be interviewed on camera without the approval of the governor’s office. The governor’s office rejected Denver7’s request to interview parole board members about this case, instead sending a statement reading simply: “The Parole Board does not comment on individual parole decisions.”
The Colorado Department of Corrections and Dianna Lawyer-Brook declined Denver7’s request for an interview.
But Lawyer-Brook told Denver7 she had been removed from her position with Colorado Circles of Support and Accountability following the parole board's letter.
Christopher Lawyer is set to be released from prison in April, but it is not clear where he will go.
Dianna Lawyer-Brook told Denver7 her neighborhood’s homeowners association is set to vote later this month on whether to change its policies to ban sexually violent predators from moving in to the neighborhood.
“Any parolee or their family cannot change parole’s decisions, but what appears to influence state and county agencies is a number of loud, insistent, and affluent individuals who feel that they shouldn’t have to allow returning offenders into their exclusive subdivisions,” Lawyer-Brook wrote to Denver7. “Having an identified [a sexually violent predator] in your neighborhood who has served his time and received (and is still receiving) intensive therapy, and who is determined to be successful, is not as dangerous to the community as the unidentified sex offenders who live amongst us, are most often related to us, and have not undergone therapeutic treatment to help them live safe and normal lives.”
Neighbors say they just won’t feel safe if Lawyer moves back into their community – regardless of what his mother says.
“No one wants a rapist living in their neighborhood. So how can you protect the community at a state level, from schools, from public places, from bike paths. Where can they go?” Fisher asked. “If they're going to release them I think there needs to be some guidelines as to where they can live and where they can't.”