Colorado courts made a fatal clerical error that resulted in the early release of a violent inmate, who authorities believe then shot and killed state prison chief Tom Clements and pizza delivery man Nathan Leon, the state court administrator admitted Monday.
Evan Ebel, who had been imprisoned since 2005, was released from prison in late January, even though he should have stayed behind bars for another four years for attacking a prison guard.
Clements, the director of the Colorado Department of Correction, was shot at home March 19. Ebel was killed in Texas after a car chase and shootout with police. Officials matched the weapon found in Texas to the one used to kill Clements. Ebel was also tied to Leon’s killing.
Ebel was serving time for burglary and carjacking when he slipped out of handcuffs and assaulted a prison guard. He pleaded guilty to the charge in 2008 and was sentenced to serve an additional four years.
But according to 9News, which first reported on the error, the judge didn’t clearly indicate on the sentencing paperwork whether the four years were to be served consecutively, as he intended, or concurrently.
By default, the document was interpreted by the Corrections Department to mean the sentence was to be served concurrently.
That was a mistake, the court administrator admitted in a statement released Monday.
“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 Department of Corrections,” the statement said. “The court regrets this oversight and extends condolences to the families of Mr. Nathan Leon and Mr. Tom Clements.”
“How do I tell my 4-year-old [that] daddy was murdered because of a clerical error?” Katherine Leon, Nathan Leon’s widow, told 9News. “A simple sorry ain’t going to suffice in my book.”
Court officials say they will review procedures to ensure such a mistake doesn’t happen again.
Meanwhile, authorities are trying to determine if there is a connection between Clements’ killing and the killings of two district attorneys in Texas.
Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down outside the courthouse on Jan. 31. On Sunday, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia were found shot dead at their home in Forney, Texas. Police are still searching for suspects in the killings.
Colorado authorities are investigating whether Ebel was ordered to kill Clements by someone in the 211 prison gang that Ebel reportedly belonged to.
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