Hard Time

The oldest lifer in Colorado prisons is dying to be anywhere but here.

"As a poor person I didn't feel I had any chance or any ability to say anything to anybody," Madson said during a 1981 hearing. "I was a simple and naïve person. I did not know the difference between moral and legal guilt. I did not understand a whole lot about the law."

Madson takes the stand and repeats his story: self-defense. The jury finds him guilty of first-degree murder anyway and sentences him to life in prison.

Madill is tried separately, convicted and also sentenced to life.

Madson has ten days to appeal but declines. His attorney does not explain the implications, he says. On December 11, 1941, he is locked behind the massive stone walls of the Territorial Prison in Cañon City.

Fifteen years later, after prisoners are given access to law books, Madson teaches himself the basics and tries to appeal, arguing that he was improperly charged and inadequately represented. But court clerks have destroyed many documents, including his transcripts, to create storage space. Madson appeals anyway, now saying that the destruction of his transcripts also violated his right to due process.

In 1959, without a hearing, without appointing Madson an attorney, a judge rejects his arguments, transcripts or not.

Seeing no other option, Madson does his time.

December 26, 1977.

The frozen body of a 48-year-old waitress named Geneva Van Hee is found inside her Vega in a downtown La Junta parking lot. She had been shot once behind the left ear at point-blank range.

Police estimate she died between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

They question her ex-husband but drop him as a suspect; he is crippled and could not climb into or out of the compact car. They question two of her close friends but confirm their alibis. They dismiss robbery as a motive because Van Hee's purse lies unopened in the backseat with $80 inside.

The dead woman's daughter, Khip Turley, points authorities toward her mother's former boyfriend, an ex-con with a jealous streak: Alfred Madson. He'd returned to La Junta in 1962, after 21 years behind bars, and after his life sentence had been commuted for good behavior. He now works as a plumber.

Madson met Van Hee at a downtown bar called Caps. They dated for several months, but the relationship soured. Van Hee, who'd recently divorced, dated other men. Madson didn't like it.

That Thanksgiving, he wrote a letter accusing her of humiliating him, pulling "shady tricks" and breaking his heart. The couple broke up. Van Hee told her daughter and several friends that she was afraid: "If you can't find me, start looking in the trash cans," she tells them. "You can't tell what some silly old fool will do."

On Christmas Eve, Van Hee leaves the cafe where she works and visits Caps, a bar where her best friend, Jessie Redd, works as a bartender. Van Hee notices Madson watching the Broncos-Steelers playoff game at the bar, and joins him. He'd arrived several hours earlier, showing off a cream-colored sweater he had received as a gift. They begin to argue, and Van Hee moves to another seat.

At 3 p.m., Redd clocks out and joins Van Hee for a drink. They talk about a dinner Turley is planning to prepare and a party they want to attend later that night. Redd leaves about 45 minutes later, but Van Hee stays behind to chat with three railroad men. Madson sits alone watching football.

At dusk, a man named Alfonso Whatley stands in a lumberyard next door to Caps, talking to his brother. He sees Van Hee drive off in her Vega with a man in the passenger seat who resembles Madson. Later, Whatley sees Madson again, this time walking alone near the parking lot across from the lumberyard, this time not wearing his sweater.

Van Hee does not join her family for dinner.

She does not call Redd about the party.

Police question Madson five hours after Van Hee's body is found. He says he left Caps at 4 p.m., before the Broncos game ended. When asked about the sweater, he first says he doesn't have one, then says he threw it away a week earlier after getting it dirty fixing his car. He is taken to police headquarters for hair, fingernail and fingerprint samples. A detective notices what looks like a drop of blood on the instep of Madson's right shoe, which he wore on Christmas Eve.

"If you say its blood, it's blood," Madson replies.

He is arrested and later charged with murder.

Madson says he is innocent.

On January 17, 1979, his trial convenes.

Prosecutors present testimony from Whatley, who describes what he saw, and testimony from Turley and Redd and others, who say Van Hee was afraid of Madson. They present Madson's letter. They attack Madson's alibi, which he's changed to say he left the bar at 5 p.m. They discuss the missing sweater. They discuss the blood on his shoe.

Defense attorneys counter: No murder weapon was found. No physical evidence was found. The blood on his shoe was human but inconclusive; tests could not determine its age or its type. The exact time of death could not be confirmed because Van Hee's body had been embalmed before the autopsy. Madson's letter contained no overt threat. Madson's friend, Alex Rivale, saw him leave Caps around 5 p.m. Another friend, Sue Unger, said he visited her house between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.

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