New law seeks clarity on Colo. prison sentences

AP News
Posted: May 29, 2013 5:11 PM
New law seeks clarity on Colo. prison sentences

DENVER (AP) — Colorado prison officials and the courts will need to clarify when multiple sentences are supposed to be served at the same time or one after the other, after an error led to the early release of an inmate suspected of killing the state's prison chief.

A bill signed into law Tuesday requires the Department of Corrections to seek clarification from courts when it's not specified how an offender is to serve two or more sentences.

The law is a response to the case of Evan Ebel, the suspect in the March killing of Tom Clements, who was shot at his home.

Ebel was in prison when he was sentenced to an additional four years for assaulting a prison officer. But the court paperwork sent to DOC failed to note that the sentences were supposed to be served consecutively, and prison officials said they legally had to consider the sentences as concurrent.

He was released four years early in January. Days after Clements' death, Ebel was killed in a shootout with Texas authorities. He also is a suspect in the killing of a pizza deliveryman in Colorado.

Republican Rep. Frank McNulty, one of the sponsors of bill to clarify sentences, said lawmakers were unaware that such a gap in the system existed that could create confusion about when an inmate was supposed to be released.

"This case brought it to our attention. It's one of those things that I suppose nobody thought to look for," he said.

Now, Department of Corrections officials will be required to seek clarification within two businesses days after a court imposes a sentence, and the court must respond within two days.

The law is one of several steps state officials have taken in the aftermath of Clements' death. Last month prison officials ramped up efforts to monitor parolees, including responding quicker to tampering with electronic monitoring equipment.

Ebel slipped out of his monitoring ankle bracelet days before Clements' death, but officials only found out on the day Clements was killed.

After it was revealed that Ebel was released early, Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered an audit to determine how many other inmates' sentences are incorrect in some way. A first round of results indicates the number could be more than 1,000.