DENVER (AP) – The ex-convict suspected in the killing of Colorado’s prison chief who was mistakenly released from prison four years early slipped off his electronic monitoring bracelet, but parole officials didn’t realize he had fled until just hours before the slaying.
A corrections computer system recorded that Evan Spencer Ebel’s bracelet stopped working on March 14, according to documents released Tuesday. Officers learned he had fled on March 19, the day Tom Clements was fatally shot as he answered the front door at his home.
The detail is the latest example of how Ebel fell through the cracks of the criminal justice system in the years before his January release. On Monday, court officials acknowledged that a clerical error allowed Ebel to leave prison four years early because his most recent felony conviction was incorrectly recorded on his record.
“We have to do better in the future,” said Tim Hand, director of the Department of Correction’s parole division.
Ebel, who died after a March 21 shootout with Texas deputies, had been a model parolee until his electronic monitoring bracelet stopped working. Before that, he called in daily, even once calling in alarm because no one had requested his weekly random urinalysis test to show he hadn’t been using drugs.
His father provided him housing and a job at his law firm, but on the afternoon of March 14, a “tamper alert” automatically went to a prison computer system showing the bracelet had stopped working, records show. Two days later, corrections officials called Ebel and told him to come in to repair the bracelet. He did not show up.
On March 17, Nathan Leon, a father of three and Domino’s delivery man, was shot to death after responding to an order for pizza in Denver. Ebel is suspected in the killing.
It was not until March 18 that parole officers spoke to Ebel’s father, who told them he feared his son had fled and gave them permission to search his apartment. The next day, two parole officers saw Ebel had taken a large amount of clothing and apparently fled. That night, Clements was shot.
An arrest warrant for Ebel’s parole violations was issued March 20. The following day he became a suspect in both killings after dying in a shootout with authorities in Texas. The gun Ebel used was the same one used to shoot and kill Clements.
Ebel had been flagged as a high-risk parolee and went straight from solitary confinement back out onto the streets in late January. But parole officials said they were impressed with his first six weeks out of custody. While many high risk offenders slip up and violate parole in their first months, Ebel complied with all the terms of his agreement.
“From the 28th of January to the middle of March, we had an individual who was calling in every day, who was employed, who showed no indication that he would do the kind of things that we now know” he did, Hand said.
Judicial officials acknowledged Monday that Ebel shouldn’t have been released in January.
In 2008, Ebel pleaded guilty in rural Fremont County to assaulting a prison officer. In the plea deal, Ebel was to be sentenced to up to four additional years in prison, to be served after he completed the eight-year sentence that put him behind bars in 2005, according to a statement from Colorado’s 11th Judicial District.
According to court transcripts released Tuesday, Ebel told the judge he’d be 33 when he was released, and asked for a more lenient sentence. The judge told him that four years on top of his previous sentence was fair.
The judge, however, didn’t say the sentence was meant to be “consecutive,” or in addition to, Ebel’s current one, so it went to the prison system as a sentence to be served simultaneously. Prison officials say they had no way of knowing the intention had been for Ebel to remain behind bars long after his Jan. 28 release date.
Charles Barton, chief judge of the 11th Judicial District, and court administrator Walter Blair, said in a statement that the court regrets the oversight “and extends condolences to the families of Mr. Nathan Leon and Mr. Tom Clements.”
Leon’s widow said the apology wasn’t going to cut it. “How do I tell my 4-year-olds: `Daddy was murdered because of a clerical error,”‘ Katherine Leon told a Denver TV station.
Leon’s father-in-law told AP he had no immediate comment.
By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Associated Press
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)