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The Killer and Mrs. Johnson

A gruesome crime. A bizarre defense. Can a crusading author reopen her best friend's case?

At one point, Charles, Jacob, Pam and Cameron Jordan, Kermode's son from a previous marriage, drove up to Wyoming to visit Sandoz and her mother, the Inds' maternal grandmother. When the grandmother became ill, the group had to make an emergency trip to Denver in the Jordans' motor home. The drive was a shrieking nightmare.

"The kids were saying terrible things about Pam," Sandoz recalls, "and Pam was just screaming obscenities, telling the kids they were no good and to shut their mouths. The kids were talking about killing her. I kept my kids in the back of the motor home, and we were practically cowering, it was so bad."

Sandoz became estranged from her younger sister not long after the trip. The Jordans, she says, went out of their way to pick fights with their in-laws, as if they wanted to alienate their kids from the rest of the family. She didn't want her own children around Kermode--who collected books on torture and had secretly propositioned Sandoz--or around Pam and her domineering behavior. "I always thought somehow the kids would end up getting killed," she says.

Sandoz was summoned to Ind's murder trial as a potential defense witness; her mother was called to testify, but she wasn't. "It was really frustrating," she says. "We were privy to no information. Anytime we asked about anything, we were told, 'Sorry, there's a gag order.' Attorneys never returned our calls. It's like they tried to keep us in the dark and divided."

If she had testified, she adds, she would have told the jury what she knew about the family dynamics in the Jordan household and in the family her sister came from. "I was willing to say that my sister learned some of her abusive behaviors from her parents," she says.

Johnson never interviewed Sandoz or her mother for The Murder of Jacob, and Sandoz disputes many of the claims the book makes about Pam's side of the family. Yet Sandoz and her mother have joined in Johnson's efforts to reopen the case. "Mary Ellen's heart is in the right place," Sandoz says. "She's very pro-Jacob."

Dennis Sladek, the attorney seeking a hearing for a new trial, readily admits that his efforts amount to "Tuesday-morning quarterbacking" on a complex, high-profile murder case. Still, he suggests there are several issues that might be grounds for a fresh appeal, from "newly discovered evidence" to possible ineffective assistance of counsel to insufficient investigation by authorities.

"Without criticizing anyone involved, there's clearly some things there that I question," he says. "First of all, why didn't Jacob take the stand? You very rarely have a defendant you want to put on the stand in a criminal case, but in a situation like this--a fifteen-year-old boy with no priors, who's clearly going to be somewhat emotional--to me, that would be an ideal situation."

Sladek declines to discuss what sort of new facts he might bring to the judge's attention, since he and his investigators haven't completed their own review of the evidence yet. But unanswered questions and conspiracy theories have hung around the five-year-old case like rotten leftovers in an old fridge. There has been speculation that Charles Ind, whose alibi the night of the murders was challenged by his roommate, may have been more directly involved in Jacob's plot than either brother cares to admit--a theory raised by lawyers for Gabrial Adams but dismissed by the prosecution because of the lack of any physical evidence linking Charles to the crime scene.

There's also been considerable talk about a coverup at the Teller County Department of Social Services. Johnson has identified several former DSS employees who claim that a caseworker visited the Jordan home a few weeks before the slayings but took no action against the parents. One of her sources told Westword that he walked in on agency officials who were shredding documents, presumably related to the Ind investigation, on the evening after the murders.

But others familiar with the case say they doubt there's much "new evidence" waiting to be discovered. Kaufman says his own investigators looked into the shredded-documents story. "As I recall, it was baseless," he says, "but I do wish Dennis and Jacob all the luck in the world. Maybe if you got a good enough record in the civil case, you could show new evidence."

Former prosecutor Aspinwall has heard about shredded documents, too, and he's even more skeptical. "I have a hard time believing someone would do that," he says. "I have a hard time believing that there's any credible new evidence here."

Whether new evidence would sway a jury on the crucial issue of self-defense is an even bigger question. Battered-wife cases have managed to stretch the notion of self-defense to include killing a tormentor in his sleep, Aspinwall notes, but Colorado law doesn't look favorably on such a defense when the killer hires a third party to do the dirty work.

But Sladek suggests he may be able to marshal enough evidence of abuse and botched intervention by the state to tip the scales in Ind's favor. "We're not condoning Jacob's actions," he says. "The question is, should he have been charged with first-degree murder?"

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