Hard Time

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

Neither statement mentioned anything about Madson getting shot. In fact, three .22 shells were found outside near the pump, and one .45 shell was found inside the store beside Stevens's body.

But this much was clear: They went to Punkin Center to rob Stevens. Something went wrong, and they killed him.

During his early appeals, Madson was never appointed an attorney or granted a hearing, and he made some legal mistakes that hurt his case. He also sent disconcerting, rambling letters to court clerks, attorneys and even a judge, whom Madson stopped just short of threatening.

Alfred Madson Jr., arrested for murder in 1941.
Alfred Madson Jr., arrested for murder in 1941.


Read Madson's letter to Westword regarding Harrison Fletcher.

"When the clerks in Otero County hear his name, they just freeze," says Thomas Van Cleave, a state public defender who was assigned to handle Madson's most recent appeals.

Van Cleave argued that Madson's attorney on the Stevens charge had a conflict of interest, so his client was not adequately represented. He argued that since Madson was never provided with his transcripts, he was denied due process. "On the first trial, he did not get much representation at all," Van Cleave says. "By today's standards, it would clearly be inadequate."

In 1982, the evidence against Madson was indeed "on the flimsy side," Van Cleave says. But it was enough for a jury to convict him twice. "He did have pretty decent representation," he adds. "They were pretty aggressive. He had a relatively decent shot at it."

Sheldon Emerson defended Madson in 1979, and Michael Mitchell defended him in 1982. Neither attorney knows anything about two more witnesses who could confirm Madson's alibi.

And they looked.

"Sorry, Al," says Mitchell. "There were no witnesses."

In 1979 and 1982, these attorneys say, Madson himself chose not to testify, even though his statements could have made the difference in the second trial.

"We begged him to take the stand," Mitchell says. "He wouldn't do it."

The bottom line: Madson's attorneys did the best they could with what they had, and Madson has pushed his cases as far as he can.

The fact is, Madson is a sick man staring at the prospect of dying alone in prison. Reliving the injustices of his case, real or imagined, is all he has.

"It offers him a sliver of hope," Emerson says. "He's got nothing else to do."

Madson loses his temper.

They wheel him into the room in the Fremont prison a second time, and he explodes.

He does not want to hear what the newspapers wrote in 1941 -- of course they would write what the police tell them. He does not want to hear what the lawyers say, either. He trusted his lawyers, and now he is in prison. He does not want to talk about his family, his criminal life, or his health. He does not want sympathy. He does not want pity. He does not understand how an invitation to investigate his case leads to questions about a past he would rather forget.

Listen, he says: He killed Stevens in self-defense, but his transcripts were destroyed. How could he appeal without transcripts?

He did not kill Geneva Van Hee, he insists. He left the bar around 5 p.m., when Terry Bradshaw threw a fourth-quarter interception. Sure, he wrote the Thanksgiving letter; he didn't like being played for a sucker. He and Van Hee did not argue about their relationship that afternoon. He had a $50 bet on the Steelers, and she liked the Broncos. Turley and Redd are making up stories. He wasn't even near the parking lot when Van Hee was murdered, and he has two people who could have proved it. He was never granted hearings or appointed an attorney for any of his appeals. His rights were violated. He was cheated by the legal system.

Those are the "true facts," he says. That was the story he wanted written.

Forget the whole thing, he says.

And he leaves.

Dr. Diane Al-Abduljalil is the physician at the Fremont medium-security prison. She has treated Madson for a number of chronic, debilitating illnesses, including arthritis, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation and increasing pressure on his brain. During the past year, he has shown early signs of Alzheimer's-type dementia. He misses appointments and does not reschedule them. He might not be taking his medication. He has refused surgery.

"He has deteriorated quite a bit in the last year," she says.

Madson, the fourth-oldest inmate in Colorado, says he has already suffered two strokes: The first was in 1997, when he was walking in the yard, and the second came shortly after that, while he was sleeping. Now his right arm and right leg don't work so well. He cannot walk far without a wheelchair. He is supposed to have volunteer porters to push him where he needs to go, but they are not always available, and he misses several meals a week. Soon he will not be able to care for himself. But he does not complain.

"They've got 2,000 people in here to worry about without having to hear my sniveling little stuff," he says.

Al-Abduljalil keeps tabs on Madson when she can -- he is seen at least every three months through the prison's chronic-care system -- but Fremont has 1,500 inmates. She cannot monitor him day to day. Since there are no phones inside the cells, inmates like Madson contact doctors via a "kite," or special form. If they don't, doctors may not be aware of problems. "The only way to routinely care for them is through the chronic-care system," she says. "Otherwise, they must initiate it."

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