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HARD TIME

EVEN COLORADO'S TOUGHEST CONS ARE AFRAID TO BUNK WITH MARVIN GRAY.

On the prison charge form filled out by authorities in that case, it was noted that Gray had "been involved in homosexual acts with other inmates in the past." There was no mention of whether those acts were consensual.

Gray could have been taken to district court and slapped with a criminal charge for the prison rape. But nobody followed through with it. Instead, after being found guilty in an administrative hearing, he was shipped off to Centennial, then the state's maximum-security prison, with the following caution: "It is highly recommended that he be involved in a sex-offender group when it is available." (Gray never was.)

When, in late 1988, the DOC was looking to ease overcrowding by sending Colorado inmates to Washington State, Gray surfaced as a volunteer. The DOC was only too happy to send a glowing recommendation to Washington to smooth his way.

"I am not certain whether or not Gray in fact committed the [rape]," his caseworker wrote on his behalf. "However, it is out of his character to do such a thing." DOC officials added in an internal memo that both they and Gray were "hopeful" he would be accepted and transferred.

The officials in Washington, though, proved to be a little more picky than their Colorado compatriots had hoped. Gray was rejected and remained in Colorado.

Two years later, in November 1990, Gray was again making plans to leave the Colorado prison system. This time, however, he went out the front door. Despite his lengthy rap sheet, his record of escape in Kentucky and his problems within the Colorado system, he was slated for parole.

Gray left prison on January 18, 1991. He was supposed to report to his parole officer in Denver a few days later and find himself a job. Gray wasn't interested. A couple days after leaving prison, he was aboard a Greyhound bus headed for Paducah, Kentucky, not far from his hometown.

The members of Gray's large family (six brothers and four sisters) were none too happy to hear that the black sheep planned a visit. One of them went so far as to warn Gray's former probation officer, Bill Fryar, that "Gayle" was coming home.

Fryar immediately contacted Colorado authorities, who then put out a fugitive report over the national crime computer. Fryar followed his call to Colorado with a letter to his supervisors. "My interest in this case is that this defendant has made death threats against the circuit judge, a former sheriff and me," Fryar wrote. "He has also abused, assaulted and threatened members of his family who live here and elsewhere." Fryar claimed that Gray had stabbed one of his own brothers and that he'd once thrown a sheriff's deputy across a room.

Gray arrived in Paducah as scheduled. He was met by a brother-in-law and a cousin who had been sent with strict instructions to keep Gray as far away from the family as possible. Over the next few hours, Gray's relatives drove from town to town looking for an open bus depot to leave their charge. The Hopkinsville depot was closed. The one in Madisonville was closed, too. They finally left Gray in an all-night restaurant, where they gave him $200 and an order to get his butt on the next bus to Colorado.

In 1992 Gray went back into the Colorado prison system for good. A single robbery conviction sealed his fate. Deemed a habitual criminal, Gray received three life sentences.

Compared to Gray's exploits, James Mervin's criminal career amounts to small potatoes. Although his first conviction as an adult was for third-degree assault, he was a thief at heart. Of his nine other arrests over a seventeen-year span, eight were for larceny or burglary. The other was for a traffic offense.

In 1993 Mervin broke into his ex-girlfriend's house. The resulting conviction earned him a designation as a habitual criminal and garnered him a life sentence.

Mervin spent most of his time in prison lifting weights, and it was through that mutual interest that he and Gray became acquainted. Just how close they were is a matter of debate.

Gray insists the two were good friends. "I have come to his rescue a few times," he claims. "Mervin has a chip on his shoulder. He's egotistical. I was trying to school him, help him learn right from wrong. His worst enemy is himself."

Gray claims that he and Mervin worked out together almost every day when they were at Shadow Mountain. Mervin and his friends deny it. "I worked out with him maybe once," Mervin says. And for the most part, he gave Gray wide berth. It was a wise decision.

On the morning of November 5, 1992, Gray was brought from the Denver County Jail to a third-floor holding cell at Denver's federal courthouse. Although Gray now contends that he doesn't know why the feds wanted to see him, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshal's office confirms that Gray was slated to testify in a case involving alleged drug kingpin Anthony "Cricket" Smith. Cricket was suspected of dealing in major amounts of heroin, some of which reportedly made its way into the state's prisons.

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