MONDAY UPDATE: Fox 31 reports (video to right):
Pop quiz, folks–you’re the sitting Attorney General of Colorado, and you’re running for re-election against the first real competition you’ve ever faced as an incumbent. What’s the absolute worst possible story that could come out the day after the state convention?
As the Denver Post reports:
Less than four weeks before Scott Kimball started killing people, then-U.S. Attorney John Suthers signed the order that transferred the habitual criminal and escaped convict to Colorado [Pols emphasis] and set in motion his ill-fated career as an FBI informant.
Suthers, now Colorado’s attorney general, does not have “any specific recollection about involvement in the case,” said Mike Saccone, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. He said Suthers was unavailable for further comment.
The document approving the transfer, which was recently unsealed by a federal judge, was signed by Suthers on Dec. 24, 2002 – just days after Kimball’s release from a Lakewood prison in a deal in which he promised to provide information about a murder-for-hire plot involving a witness in a drug case…
While out on the streets in 2003 and 2004, he murdered three women and his uncle, evading suspicion for years before the fathers of two of the victims pressed for a new investigation that unraveled his elaborate web of deceit.
The unsealed papers, in conjunction with other documents, raise new questions about the diligence with which federal prosecutors and agents looked into Kimball’s background before making him a paid “confidential human source.”
…Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who plans to challenge Suthers in the November election and who prosecuted Kimball for the killings, said he was flabbergasted by the picture painted by the newly unsealed documents.
“This is one of the worst plea bargains in the history of the world,” he said. “To give this kind of guy with four prior felonies this kind of bond and freedom so he could go and commit these murders is unbelievable.”
…On Dec. 18, 2003, Kimball was released from prison “to actively cooperate with the FBI on the Steven Ennis matter,” according to a previously released affidavit. Six days later, Suthers and Timothy Burgess, then the U.S. attorney in Alaska, both signed the transfer document. In it, Kimball agreed to have his case adjudicated in Denver – where he had just begun work as an informant.
The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure require that the U.S. attorney in each district personally approve a transfer for a plea and sentence.
You may recall the name Willie Horton from the 1988 presidential race between George H.W. Bush and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Considered one of the key moments that sank Dukakis’ already-slim hopes of defeating Bush, Horton had been released by Massachusetts prison officials on a “weekend furlough” when he committed further crimes including rape. Horton’s crimes and mug shot were linked to Dukakis at every opportunity, and seriously damaged him. Now it’s true those ridiculous photos of Dukakis in the tank didn’t help much either, but the successful linkage of Willie Horton’s story to Dukakis made Horton a household name for many years–and a lesson taught in political science classes around the world on how to successfully smear a political opponent.
That’s right–and Dukakis wasn’t even personally involved with Horton’s case. Dukakis didn’t sign any court proceedings transfers so Willie Horton could remain in his state, and Dukakis certainly never approved of setting Willie Horton permanently free to work for the cops.
And there’s another difference, too: Willie Horton didn’t murder four people when he got out.
Folks, we really don’t know what the campaign of Democratic opponent Stan Garnett plans to do with this, or independent groups sizing up the Attorney General’s race–our Sunday morning guess is that the Post and Boulder Daily Camera did the legwork on this story, and Democrats and their allies are just as surprised to read it as everybody else.
But if you don’t see a story with devastating political consequences for Suthers–who had better come up with an excellent reason for why he let this man loose in our state to murder four people, and right now–you’re pretty much blind. Suthers has been accused of political grandstanding, and ideological bias tainting his department, but this story cuts directly to the heart of his fundamental charge to protect public safety. This is much worse than anything Suthers has faced so far, and his feeble “no recollection” responses are like chum in the water.
And having Suthers’ opponent be the prosecutor who finally put this guy away? That’s just poetry.
UPDATE: Statement from Garnett’s campaign after the jump–says spokesman Charlie Brennan, “It was essentially a get out-of-jail-free card for a four-time convicted felon, alleged rapist and a man who escaped from custody in Montana following a conviction just two years before. On Christmas Eve 2002, John Suthers put his name to that document, setting Mr. Kimball free…[o]nly a few weeks later, Mr. Kimball would kill the first of four known victims in a murder spree.”
For Our Attorney General
Tough. Fair. On Your Side
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 23, 2010
MEDIA CONTACT: Charlie Brennan
John Suthers’ Plea Bargain With a Serial Killer
The Denver Post published an article May 23 that tells a tragic story bigger than any political contest. More importantly, this story has important ramifications for voters deciding who should be the next Attorney General for Colorado.
John Suthers, then U.S. Attorney for Colorado, signed a document on Dec. 24, 2002, which officially transferred Scott Lee Kimball’s counterfeiting case from Alaska to Colorado. That transfer came with the understanding that Mr. Kimball, soon to be a serial killer, would be granted a plea bargain giving him sentencing leniency in return for his service as an informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It was essentially a get out-of-jail-free card for a four-time convicted felon, alleged rapist and a man who escaped from custody in Montana following a conviction just two years before. On Christmas Eve 2002, John Suthers put his name to that document, setting Mr. Kimball free, ultimately to be sentenced to just a $5,000 fine, time served and three years’ probation. Only a few weeks later, Mr. Kimball would kill the first of four known victims in a murder spree. It was a rampage Mr. Kimball, who called himself “Hannibal,” carried out while a paid informant working for, and purportedly supervised by, the United States Department of Justice.
When questioned about the matter by the Post, Mr. Suthers didn’t remember signing off on the deal, and said he would have “No Comment.” His lack of awareness of what he was signing, his failure to ensure that Mr. Kimball was adequately monitored, and lack of accountability now, is troubling. It merits more than a “No Comment” from a campaign spokesman.
Throughout the handling of Mr. Kimball’s case, the United States Attorney’s office, under Mr. Suthers’ supervision, repeatedly filed motions to close hearings and seal records, covering up case proceedings and denying the public a chance to know about problems they were experiencing with their “informant.” When the judge expressed concern about such secrecy, Mr. Suthers’ prosecutors said they were worried about safety – “Hannibal’s” safety.
Only when a Lafayette detective subsequently launched what started as a fraud investigation into Mr. Kimball’s activities, joined by the Boulder District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, did authorities see the full horror and homicidal mayhem for which Mr. Kimball was responsible after he was freed.
Through the solid work of the above agencies, and the prosecutorial efforts of the team working under the direction of Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, Mr. Kimball entered a guilty plea Oct. 8, 2009, to two counts of second-degree murder, while admitting responsibility for all four murders for which he had been investigated. Mr. Kimball was sentenced that day to 70 years in prison.
“I am pleased that in this very difficult case we were able to reach a disposition that assures that Scott Kimball will spend the rest of his life in prison and that provides the victims’ families some measure of comfort,” Garnett said.
Approval by the United States Attorney for Denver of an extremely lenient plea bargain for Mr. Kimball – who had four prior felony convictions, had escaped from a 10-year sentence and had been described by a Montana judge as unfit for community supervision speaks to a management style lacking in focus. It shows Mr. Suthers was out of touch, not paying attention at a critical moment that, for the families of four innocent victims, will reverberate painfully forever.
Boulder County prosecutors secured a 48-year term against Mr. Kimball in December 2008 for theft as an habitual offender, and at the same time gave him a chance to plead guilty to one count of second-degree murder, providing he lead authorities to the bodies of the three murder victims whose remains had not yet been found: LeAnn Emry, Jennifer Marcum and Terry Kimball. When Mr. Kimball failed to produce Ms. Marcum’s body, that deal was revoked by District Attorney Stan Garnett May 11, 2009. Less than five months later, Boulder County prosecutors won convictions and the sentence that will keep Mr. Kimball behind bars the rest of his life.
“I am incredibly proud of the work my office did to crack these cold cases, and lock up Mr. Kimball for the rest of his life in a manner that is acceptable to the victims’ families,” Garnett said. “Managing an office with law enforcement responsibility such as District Attorney, U.S. Attorney or Attorney General is all about priorities. And public safety must be the highest priority.”
Those seeking more information concerning the Kimball case are advised to consult the superb 15-part series “Free to Kill” authored by reporter John Aguilar, published by the Boulder Daily Camera. It is archived on the paper’s website.
For additional information, contact Charlie Brennan at Charlie.firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please visit the campaign website at Garnettforag.com.