Off Limits

Natural bored killer: It's taken almost twenty years, but hit man Charles Harrelson finally had his day in court--again. Convicted of the 1979 Texas murder of federal judge John H. Wood Jr., and now serving life in the federal Supermax facility in Florence, Harrelson has been angling for a new trial ever since the first one went against him in 1982. Earlier this week he was granted a hearing on the matter in federal court in Denver and arrived armed with a troika of high-powered attorneys and mouth-for-hire Alan Dershowitz, who was expected to testify as an expert witness on his behalf. Of course, it helps if you have the legal tender to attract such legal talent, or if you have a bad-boy offspring like movie-star son Woody "Kingpin" Harrelson to foot the bill.

Charles Harrelson's tangled criminal case would make a pretty good piece of trash-cinema itself--better, surely, than Woody's psychedelic gross-out flick Natural Born Killers. "Maximum John" Wood was a hardass famous for doling out stiff sentences to minor drug offenders in south Texas; when he was gunned down outside his San Antonio residence, an act prosecutors dubbed "the crime of the century," the suspect list was a long one. The government argued that the Chagra brothers, a notorious family of Texas drug lords, paid Harrelson $250,000 for the job. He was a likely suspect: a low-life mechanic who'd been charged with two other contract killings (and convicted once), had a fling with his own stepdaughter and allegedly had referred to his previous victims as "watermelons with hair." But Harrelson insisted that he was in Dallas the morning of the murder and had witnesses to prove it.

The jury didn't buy Harrelson's alibi sixteen years ago, maybe because of the damning government tapes of conversations among the Chagras (in which they implicated themselves and Harrelson) or Harrelson's own Oliver Stoneish flair for the dramatic (at one point he confessed to killing not only Wood but John F. Kennedy). This time around, his attorneys are seeking to point the finger at an alternate suspect, a lawyer who was peripherally involved in the case. But as the excruciating re-examination of ancient evidence and testimony plodded onward last week in Denver, most of the finger-pointing in the gallery was directed at Woody and other family members who'd come to support Pa in his hour of need. Reporters from Texas as well as local media lapdogs fell all over themselves trying to pry an interview from Woody at the first break in the proceedings. Playing his amiable Cheers barkeep role to the hilt, Woody gave them a goofy grin and begged off, saying, "I was really hoping to urinate."

Puzzled over what to do while waiting for his father to beat the rap, Woody remarked that he hadn't been in Denver for some time. He asked another spectator, "Are there any places left that Jack Kerouac wrote about in On the Road? What's the name of that bar where he used to hang out with what's-his-name, that wild guy?"

That would be Neal Cassady, Woodman. And, no, there's no bar left in this burg where anybody knows his name.

Decisions, decisions, '98: As the August 11 primary approaches, the scramble to replace David Skaggs in the 2nd Congressional District is attracting big bucks from all the usual spenders. Democratic contenders Mark Udall and Gene Nichol in particular are raking in the dough, Udall in large part thanks to his father Mo Udall's legacy as one of the few national lawmakers ever to combine a puckish sense of humor with a mean skyhook (Mo played basketball for the University of Arizona long before New York Knicks star-turned-New Jersey senator Bill Bradley ruined the whole hoopster-populist movement by going cerebral on us). But out-of-state plates aren't the only ones being passed on behalf of Marky Mark, who's collected a total of $310,000; the boy wonder also has snarfed up some lettuce from Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Strickland, the clout-wielding Democratic law firm where life is a donkey show. Udall picked up $1,000 from name partner and failed U.S. Senate candidate "Handsome Tom" Strickland, along with another grand from Norm Brownstein's wife, the socialite Sunny Brownstein. He also got $250 each from firm attorneys Gary Reiff and Cole Finegan.

As usual, though, The Firm didn't put all its clams in one bucket. Nichol, the University of Colorado law professor who reportedly drew the wrath of the Brownstein boys when he dared to challenge Handsome Tom in the 1996 senate race, reported a total take of $377,000, including $500 from Brownstein attorney (and neighbor and longtime friend) Stan Garnett, along with $200 each from BHFS attorneys Pat Carrigan and Ed Barad. So far, big kahunas Norm Brownstein and Steve Farber are holding back; according to Udall campaign manager Bev Noun, they haven't yet contributed to either Udall or Nichol.

Meanwhile, Boulder mayor Bob Greenlee is the GOP moneyman in the second district, collecting a cool $387,000 while challenger Larry Johnson has scraped together so little cash that he hasn't even been required to file a report with the Federal Election Commission. The front-running Greenlee, by the way, is no stranger to sure things. It's no secret, for instance, that he's a big backer of The Lodge, the giant new casino up in Black Hawk. But Greenlee was conspicuously absent at the Lodge's grand-opening party for high rollers last month. Word has it that, with the GOP's prudish right wing to worry about, his handlers aren't anxious to play up his connections to a gambling hall--at least not until after the primary.

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