Colorado Accidentally Releases Man from Jail, Man Allegedly Kills Prisons Chief

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The case of the white supremacist suspected of killing the head of Colorado's prison system and a pizza man just got weirder. Apparently, a clerical error enabled the alleged killer to leave jail four years early. The murders took place two months later. These kinds of things — that is, clerical errors — probably happen all the time across America due to bored pencil pushers and disorganized bureaucracies. But when it's the prison system, dangerous  consequences seem inevitable. A body count seems avoidable.

The suspect, Evan Spencer Ebel, was a pretty bad guy. Nicknamed "Evil Ebel" in jail, the 28-year-old, racked up 28 different violations while in a Colorado prison, where he spent most of his time in solitary confinement. He pleaded guilty to assaulting a prison guard in 2008 and as part of a plea deal was sentenced to an additional four years which would've left him behind bars until 2017. Instead, he was mistaken released in January. The judge failed to say "consecutive," so the court reporter had written "concurrently" meaning Ebel would serve no additional time. And so on January 28, prison officials released Ebel. Bad idea.

In late March, Ebel allegedly killed a Dominos pizza driver so that he could get his uniform and a pizza bag that would help him gain entry to the home Tom Clements, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. The trick worked as Clements was later found dead in his home. Ebel apparently then drove to Texas, where he shot a cop and died when a truck delivering rocks broad-sided him while he was engaged in a high-speed shootout with police. In his black Cadillac, police found a Domino's pizza bag, bomb supplies, surveillance equipment, handwritten directions to Clements' home and bloody clothing. 

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What an absurd story. So absurd that it's hard to point a finger at anybody, although the court reporter and judge will certainly think twice the next time they tack additional years onto the sentence of a man with "HATE" tattooed on his hand. The court extended its condolences to the family of the pizza delivery man and Clements — the Texas cop survived the shooting, thank goodness — and the district will conduct "a review of its practices."

Most heartbreaking is the fact that Clements really did believe in redemption. "It is an unbelievably bitter irony ... the thing he most wanted to change was releasing people from six years of solitary confinement directly into the general population," said Gov. John Hickenlooper at deeply religious prison director's memorial service, days before news of the clerical error broke. "They're considered unsafe to release into the prison population. How can we release them back into the general public?"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.