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Hard Time

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

He is dying in here.

He is sitting alone in his white prison cell with his library books and his Ramen noodles, losing control of his body. He is sleeping nine hours a night and waking at six the next morning but feeling like he hasn't slept at all. He is pushing himself up from a hard, flat bunk, but can't make his right arm and his right leg behave. He is holding a razor in his left hand, but he is not left-handed, so he cuts himself again and again. He is waiting for a convict to push his wheelchair to the cafeteria for breakfast, but the convict never comes, so he stays hungry.

He is Alfred Madson Jr., 82 years old, twice convicted of murder, the oldest lifer in Colorado. And he is running out of time.

Alfred Madson Jr., arrested for murder in 1941.
Alfred Madson Jr., arrested for murder in 1941.
Alfred Madson Jr., arrested for murder again in the late '70s.
Alfred Madson Jr., arrested for murder again in the late '70s.
Geneva "Gene" Van Hee was looking forward to Christmas 1977.
Geneva "Gene" Van Hee was looking forward to Christmas 1977.
Alfred Madson says he didn't get justice. The courts say otherwise.
John Johnston
Alfred Madson says he didn't get justice. The courts say otherwise.
His appeals exhausted, Madson will likely die in prison.
John Johnston
His appeals exhausted, Madson will likely die in prison.

f you want to do a story, come see me for the true facts," he writes.

hey wheel him into a room at the Fremont medium-security prison. Madson sits stiffly in his chair, jaw set, hands folded before him.

His face is colorless and his eyes are milky. He swallows hard after he speaks and struggles through words like "participation." On the fingers of each hand are the remnants of a tattoo, "Love Bess," which he filed away with sandpaper.

This is what it comes down to, his 42 years in prison: mealtime, nap time, yard time, paperbacks, a hot cup of noodles, Wheel of Fortune, maybe a football game on his black-and-white TV.

He has no visitors. His parents are dead, his sister lives in Lamar, his brother lives in L.A.

"I told them people I don't want nothing to do with nobody unless I get out, and then we can pick up where we left off," he says. "Otherwise, forget it."

He has no friends, either, inside or out.

"A couple of guys in my unit help me out now and then," he says. "I don't pay attention to their names. I don't even know their numbers. One washes windows. That's all I know."

He has no trouble with other inmates.

"I've been inside too long for that," he says. "I mind my own business and my reputation is all right -- there ain't no snitching. Even if something happens, I'm not afraid. I don't care whether I get killed or not. It doesn't mean anything to me anymore."

But he does care about this: Clearing his name, correcting the record, getting out before it is too late.

He says he was wrongly charged with murder the first time he was put behind bars. He says he was wrongly convicted in the second murder case that returned him to prison. He has filed appeal after appeal and written one rambling letter after another. He is a hard and angry old man looking for someone to believe him.

And that is not easy.

The way he tells it, the story begins in La Junta, at the end of the Dust Bowl era. His father works as a supply clerk and hospital attendant and his mother stays home with the three kids; he is the oldest. Times are hard, but the family vegetable garden keeps food on the table. Madson passes the ninth grade and soon stumbles into "Halloween-type trouble" that lands him in reform school and even a federal prison.

On August 28, 1941, Madson is 23. Work is scarce, so he and a buddy named Frank Madill decide to apply at a Denver tire factory. They leave La Junta at 2:30 a.m., after Madill finishes his shift at the railroad shops, in a '34 Ford Sedan Madson borrowed from his father. They take the back road -- Highway 71 -- and stop for gas some eighty miles later at a general store called the Punkin Center.

They honk, and the 67-year-old owner, Howard Stevens, walks outside.

Madill orders five gallons and Stevens starts pumping.

After a few moments, Madson climbs from the car and watches the man work.

Stevens gets spooked by the sullen youth and drops the hose.

"You must be robbers," he says. "No one is going to rob me again."

Stevens fumbles in his pocket for a pistol and Madson grabs hold of him. They wrestle. Stevens works free and Madson runs around the car.

The old man fires.

Madson is hit just below the right elbow.

The old man raises the gun again.

Madson reaches in the car for a .22 pistol on the dashboard and shoots back.

Stevens grabs his chest.

Madson and Madill return to La Junta. A few weeks later, Madson is arrested for Stevens's murder.

He confesses, he says now, because he shot Stevens and felt a moral obligation to say so. But it was self-defense, he insists. The old man fired first. Madson didn't plan to rob anyone. It wasn't even his gun. It was Madill's gun. Madill was a two-time loser who did time in prison for burglary. He carried the gun everywhere.

Madill is arrested and also confesses.

Madson pleads guilty and the court appoints him an attorney who also works as a part-time county judge. They do not discuss alternatives such as second-degree murder or manslaughter. They do not discuss much of anything. Madson does not see the attorney again until the night before his trial. Again, there is little discussion.

"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.

Madson, considered a liability because of his prison record, does not testify.

After deliberating three hours, a jury finds Madson guilty of first-degree murder. He is sentenced to life in prison, which at the time means another twenty years in prison before he becomes eligible for parole.

Madson appeals.

On November 16, 1981, the Colorado Supreme Court overturns his conviction, saying the testimony from Turley and Redd about conversations with Van Hee is prejudicial hearsay.

A new trial convenes on June 23, 1982. The evidence on both sides is essentially the same, except that now Turley, Redd and others cannot repeat their alleged conversations with Van Hee.

Madson does not testify.

Six days later, a second jury finds Madson guilty of first-degree murder. Again he is sentenced to life.

Madson insists he did not kill Van Hee. He knows of two more people who could confirm his alibi for the hour between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. But they were never called to testify by his attorneys. Madson would have testified, too, but he was not allowed to. The entire case against him was based upon hearsay, he says.

Now 61, he returns to prison.

Khip Turley can barely restrain herself.

She sits in a Denver restaurant, wearing all black, tapping her fingernails nervously on the table.

She was the one who found her mother's frozen body slumped over the blood-spattered console of her car. She was the one who, without thinking, called out to her seven-year-old son, "Help me open the door!" And she was the one who saw the horror spread across her boy's face.

She hates Alfred Madson. Hates him.

Her son was traumatized by what he saw. He withdrew, lashed out, spun out of control. Her three burly brothers wanted revenge against Madson, and it was all she could do to control them. Her father withered away and died twenty years later, on Christmas Eve, the anniversary of his ex-wife's death. Turley struggled to keep her family together, to hold her career together. Instead she lost her business, her house and almost her sanity.

"We have never been a family again," she says. "He destroyed that."

Geneva Van Hee was a good person, her daughter remembers. She loved baking bread, playing pinochle and dancing on Saturday night. But most of all, she loved Christmas. And the Christmas of 1977 was extra special. It was the first Christmas since Van Hee's divorce from her husband of 36 years. Turley was visiting from Denver with her son and promised to cook the traditional dinner. Her brothers were there with their kids.

The split had been hard on the family. Her mother drank, gambled, dated several men simultaneously and transformed overnight from Suzie Homemaker to "Party Hearty Mom." She wanted to feel good about herself. As the holidays approached, she finally did.

Van Hee knew Madson was a convicted murderer, but she felt sorry for him. And with his thin mustache and weathered face, Madson so closely resembled Geneva's ex-husband that they could have been brothers. So for a time, she and he had fun.

But Turley also remembers her mother being afraid. She remembers her mother saying Madson was so jealous that he didn't like her dancing with her own son. She remembers the letter Madson wrote her mother on Thanksgiving. After reading it, Turley wrote down the side: "Get away from him." And she remembers her mother telling her to search the trash cans if she suddenly went missing.

"He told her, 'I've killed before, and I'll do it again,'" Turley contends.

Her mother might have had her problems, but she did not deserve to be shot in the head in cold blood on Christmas Eve -- her favorite day of the year, Turley says. She knows Madson did it. She knows it in her bones.

So she will do everything in her power to make sure he stays locked up. She will attend his parole hearings. She will talk to his warden. She will find the judge who presided over his trial. She will spend the rest of her life seeing that he gets what he deserves.

"My life has been hell," says Turley.

Jessie Redd is also haunted by the murder. She sits back on the couch in her place in north La Junta, purple morning glories blooming outside, holding a portrait of Geneva Van Hee.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think about her," she says. "I lost a good friend."

Redd also remembers conversations with her friend. Van Hee said Madson had followed her during her dates with other men. But when Redd told Van Hee to call the police, she responded: "Who would believe me?"

Redd remembers Madson sitting at the bar that Christmas Eve, wearing his new sweater, brooding over his broken relationship with Van Hee: "If I can't have her, no one will."

She remembers Van Hee and Madson arguing at the bar and her friend turning to her afterward and saying, "He's so mad, he could kill me."

She told all this to the jury in 1979, but she was not allowed to repeat it in 1982. And that bothers her.

"I didn't tell no lies about what happened," she says.

No matter how old and how sick Madson is, Redd has no tears for him.

"He should die in prison," she says bluntly. "Don't let him make you feel sympathy for him. Don't you dare. No one wants to die in prison, but he put himself in there. No one did it for him. He is a threat. There are a lot of sick and dying people in this world who deserve your sympathy. He ain't one of them."

On October 3, 1941, the Eastern Colorado Plainsman & The Range Ledgerpublished a story under the headline "Slayer Signs Confession," with a verbatim account of Madson's signed statement. It is very different from the tale he tells today.

Madson's rap sheet dates back to 1935. He stole corn, cigarettes and a WPA check from a neighbor. And he did time at the state Industrial School in Golden, the state reformatory in Buena Vista, the state penitentiary in Cañon City and federal prisons in Nevada, Oklahoma and California.

Four days after his 23rd birthday, Madson arrived in La Junta, determined to "go straight." He moved in with his parents and took jobs at the ice plant loading produce into boxcars and picking onions in the fields.

Two weeks later he ran into Frank Madill, a 27-year-old machinist with a seventh-grade education. The two had known each other from school and crossed paths in prison, where Madill had served time for burglary. Before long, the two men launched a series of "thieving expeditions" in and around Walsenburg, Gardener and Rocky Ford. They burglarized service stations and cafes and hauled away slot machines and cigarettes. They stole a car and abandoned it.

But the crimes netted them little more than pocket money, so they set their sights on a job that could net them more than $100: robbing a general store some eighty miles north of La Junta. It was called Punkin Center because its owner, a 67-year-old bachelor named Howard Stevens, had painted it orange. At the intersection of highways 71 and 94, it was a landmark.

And a target.

Stevens had been shot and robbed while lying in bed in 1931. He had been hog-tied with electrical wire, slugged with a blackjack and robbed again in 1937. Afterward, he packed a Colt .45 to be ready "for the next fellows."

At 3:30 a.m. on August 28, 1941, they came.

Madill had borrowed a .22 target pistol from his brother; he and Madson had taken it target practicing the day before. Madson, who was about "two-thirds drunk," had borrowed his father's '34 Ford sedan. As they approached the station, they slathered mud on the front and back license plates.

Madill honked and woke the old man up.

Stevens walked outside with his flashlight on and his pistol in his pocket.

Madill ordered five gallons.

Stevens unlocked the pump and set the gas cap on the rear spare tire.

Madill told Madson, "Get out and stick 'em up," so Madson put the .22 in his pocket and climbed outside.

"I walked around back and watched the old man put the gas in," Madson said in his statement. "I started to pull the gun out of my pocket and he saw me. He dropped the gasoline hose and jumped back about three steps, starting to take the gun out of his pocket. I told him to 'Stick 'em up,' but he didn't act like he was going to obey. It looked like his gun was just about out of his pocket, so I shot twice."

Stevens staggered around the front of the car, holding his chest, and headed for the store.

"As he stepped into the door sill, he turned facing me," Madson said. "I saw his right arm coming up, so I told him, 'Hold it.' I saw him move back, so I shot again."

A bullet ricocheted off the door casing, spun through a soda can and lodged inside a tin of potted meat.

Stevens raised his .45 and squeezed off one shot before collapsing onto the floor. The spring-loaded latch locked the door shut behind him.

"Frank drove the car out of the driveway out on the road facing south, to go back to La Junta," Madson said. "I waited a minute and then ran over to the car, and we went back."

Behind them, Stevens lay unconscious. One of the hollow-point slugs had slammed into his liver, the other had cracked off a rib and ripped through his lungs. As his chest cavity filled with blood, he suffocated.

Madson was arrested four weeks later when he walked into the Otero County sheriff's office and tried to bum a dollar.

At first he denied everything. But after five days of questioning in a Colorado Springs jail, he cracked. A rancher had found a gas cap on the highway the morning after the shooting and turned it over to police. Detectives, following the trail of "two peculiar characters" with prison records, showed the cap to Madson's younger brother, who said it belonged to his father's Ford.

Madill was arrested shortly after Madson in Salt Lake City, trying to pawn a camera. His confession matched Madson's on every count, except that he blamed Madson for planning the robbery and Madson blamed him.

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.

"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."

Fremont is designed strictly for outpatient care. It is not equipped to handle patients who require long-term, 24-hour attention. Although Madson has his own wheelchair-accessible cell with custom hot- and cold-water handles, he will soon have more specialized needs. Although Fremont can manage his care at the moment, if he is allowed to remain in the general prison population much longer, Al-Abduljalil worries that his ailments could become worse and make him prone to victimization.

"I do think there is a risk," she says. "He's in general population. This is a large facility. We have gangbangers here and people for very violent crimes who can take advantage of someone who is weakened physically or mentally. He is old and weak and shows some early signs of dementia. He is definitely a candidate for assisted living."

Although the Department of Corrections has prison infirmaries and hospices in both Cañon City and Denver that provide 24-hour care, Madson is not yet sick enough for admission.

There is, however, a nursing home in Limon that would be happy to have Madson.

The Prairie View Care Center stands on the northwestern edge of town, in a neighborhood of houses the color of after-dinner mints. It is simple, clean and spare, much like the town itself. Thirty people live there, although there is room for forty, and they range in age from 51 to 101. Some suffer from Alzheimer's, while others are just old. For a cost of $134 per day, nurses change their bedpans, button their shirts, dispense their heart medication, settle their disputes, and occasionally guide them back to bed.

Madson's case manager at Fremont contacted Prairie View two years ago, when he was looking for a place Madson could go if his parole request was granted. The nursing home already has three residents who are veterans of the state prison system; none of them have presented a problem. Administrators reviewed Madson's criminal history, inmate record and health charts and conducted two personal interviews. Their conclusion: They could handle him.

"Under all circumstances, we felt he was appropriate," says Tiffany Buranosky, Prairie View's nursing director. "The impression I got was that whatever had occurred in the past was a one-time deal. At no time did he indicate that he was capable of murder or had a temper. He seemed like he would be willing and able to do whatever he needed to make people comfortable around him. He was a very polite and appropriate gentleman."

Prairie View has no special security systems for its former DOC residents, because none are needed. All patients are closely monitored. The nursing home is equipped with alarms and locked units. The staff is trained for emergencies. "We don't see how he can present a risk," Buranosky says. "If your grandma were here, I wouldn't feel he would be a threat. Physically, he needs 24-hour nursing care. He needs someone to assist him with the normal everyday activities of living. That's what we do. That's our job. I don't think he can get that care in prison."

And that's why Madson does not belong in prison, says Philip Cherner, a Denver attorney handling Madson's clemency request. To Cherner, the issue is not his client's guilt or innocence.

"You sit there in a sterile prison cafeteria and look across the table at this guy sitting in a wheelchair whose hands don't function and who can only walk a few feet and you say, 'Why on earth is he in here?'" Cherner says. "He's obviously no threat to anyone. What can we possibly achieve by taking a nursing-home resident and leaving him inside prison to be victimized by someone else?"

On average, taxpayers spend more than $26,000 incarcerating one inmate for one year. Add the cost of prescription drugs, medical tests, special food, special clothes, special housing and special monitoring, and the price tag skyrockets, Cherner argues.

"It's not a matter of feeling sorry for him," the attorney argues. "We're not only paying for routine care, but extraordinary medical care. Al is just the tip of the geriatric iceberg. It's just not an appropriate use of resources."

Madson has already served 21 years for the 1979 conviction, Cherner says. How much more can he be punished?

"I can only imagine what the victims' families must feel," the attorney says. "I'm sure they'd like to see Al in a pine box right now. But the criminal justice system does not exist solely for their benefit. It's more balanced than that. We will not deter one crime because he is in a wheelchair behind prison walls. It will not bring the victim back. It will not punish Al more than he has already been punished.

"At some point, he's not even going to understand why he's even being punished. We've got to get over this notion of punishing people over and over when there is nothing left to take. We need to step away from our own anger and take into account issues of cost-effectiveness, general fairness and Al's welfare. Retribution is not the same as justice."

On May 30, two members of the Colorado Parole Board met at the Fremont medium-security prison to consider releasing Madson.

Boardmembers Richard Martinez and Rod Gomez sat behind a desk, Madson and Turley on either side. The two officials reviewed a letter from Prairie View. They reviewed a letter from Dr. Diane Al-Abduljalil. They asked Madson why he should be paroled. They asked about the murders of Stevens and Van Hee. They asked if he had drug or alcohol problems. They asked if he was taking medication. They asked if he could walk.

Madson replied: He shot Stevens in self-defense; he did not kill Van Hee; he did not have drug or alcohol problems; he takes only aspirin; he can walk forty feet.

"If you don't want me to die in here, you better haul me to that facility," he said.

Then Turley spoke: She definitely thought Madson was guilty but did not seek the death penalty in 1979 because she did not believe in capital punishment. She also had been promised by the district attorney that Madson would never be paroled. Why were they even discussing it? She has three very tough brothers. She did not think it would be in Madson's best interests to walk the streets.

"I do not want him free," Turley said. "Consider our family."

After eleven minutes, the hearing concluded.

"Do you have anything else to add?" Martinez asked.

"Only that I just go to that center," Madson replied. "I don't want to die in here."

That same day, the board issued its ruling: Parole denied.

Martinez and Gomez checked two boxes on a one-page form: "Aggravating circumstances; inadequate time served, circumstances of offense" and "Risk control problems, needs continued correctional treatment."

"From a medical viewpoint, he is very ill and could possibly live better in a nursing home, but that does not detract from the fact that he committed two murders," Martinez explains. "Physically, chronologically, he's not in the best of condition, but murders have been committed by people in their eighties and nineties. It's possible he could pose a risk. Overall, the primary reason was the heinousness of his crimes. He certainly did not show much victim empathy. We are a conservative board. I am a conservative man. I did not do this in the punitive sense. It was a cost-benefit analysis. I think he has been handled accordingly as far as the wheels of justice go."

His case manager has presented his file to three halfway houses in three different counties, but each has rejected him.

Madson is up for parole again in three years, but Cherner doubts he will live that long.

For the moment, the system has spoken: He is where he belongs.

In prison.

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