Bull's Eyeful

The sordid legal saga of Katica Crippen, Second Amendment pinup girl.

"The defendant's benign use of the firearms as photo props and temporary possession of them by simply holding them for that purpose do make this a special and unusual case," Matsch wrote in his decision.

He gave Crippen eighteen months, six more than the absolute minimum he was allowed.

Prior to Crippen's sentencing, Matsch also had a few harsh words for federal prosecutor James Allison. "I want to know why this is a federal case," the judge demanded. "How far is this policy of locking people up with guns going to go?"

 
 
Katica Crippen wore an electronic monitoring device -- 
and nothing else -- when she posed for this photo, 
which landed her back in prison.
Katica Crippen wore an electronic monitoring device -- and nothing else -- when she posed for this photo, which landed her back in prison.


The policy has gone quite far, it turns out.

Project Exile is now part of a nationwide initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods. "Katica Crippen's case is just one example of the frightening unintended consequences of this new Bush-Ashcroft plan to federalize gun crimes," says Cato Institute scholar Gene Healy, who authored last year's study on the sweeping law-enforcement initiative.

"The law originated in a strategy by the National Rifle Association and the Bush administration to forestall further gun-enforcement legislation by emphasizing tougher enforcement of existing gun laws," Healy continues. "To this end, Project Safe Neighborhoods funds 113 new assistant U.S. Attorneys and 600 new state and local prosecutors, whose only beat is to prosecute gun crimes. And there lie the unintended consequences.

"Conviction rates are the key indicator in judging the performances of U.S. attorneys' offices. Unlike other prosecutors, whose bailiwicks cover all criminal offenses, the Safe Neighborhood prosecutors are limited to one offense. Once they run out of serious gun crimes, they push on with technical and meritless indictments."

Last year in Iowa, Healy notes, drug addict and convicted burglar Dan Yirkovsky was sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison for possessing a single .22-caliber bullet.

But Crippen's case is the most infamous, because naked chicks with guns sell. Just ask Dave Anver, owner of the Denver store Dave's Guns. Anver's print advertisements feature a rotating cast of scantily clad lovelies holding cocked firearms. "We don't ask them if they have a felony record, and maybe we'd better start," Anver says. "We have a licensed Class III firearms dealer who oversees all those photo shoots, and he removes the firing pins from the weapons before they're handled by the models, but who knows? It's a gray area. They went after her [Crippen], and that was pretty clearly a frivolous use of law enforcement. I mean, we're not talking about someone who was using a firearm in concert with any other criminal activity. So what's to stop them from going after one of my models on the same sort of technicality? Nothing except their better judgment."

Thus far, Crippen's case is unique among the more than 300 prosecutions under Project Safe Neighborhoods in Colorado alone. The conviction rate in those cases holds steady at 90 percent; the average prison sentence is four years.

District of Virginia Federal Judge Richard Williams estimated last year that "90 percent of [Project Safe Neighborhoods] defendants are probably no danger to society."

But Colorado Project Exile chief prosecutor James Allison considers Crippen dangerous, pointing to her alleged statement that she would "cap" a police officer.

"I appreciate that a person who has been convicted for murder or for aggravated robbery who is walking around with a gun, the odds are higher they're more dangerous than a person who has a conviction for mail fraud," Allison told Westword last year. "But that doesn't mean I want the person who has a conviction for mail fraud walking around with a gun.

"Regardless of where you stand on Second Amendment issues, we all know guns are very dangerous things. They kill people. And while the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to possess them in this country, which I do not argue with, it clearly creates a situation where people with bad judgment who have a gun are more inclined to hurt and kill people. And from my observation, people who have felony convictions, whether they're forgery, writing bad checks, stealing or doing anything else that's non-violent, they have bad judgment. And I agree with Congress that if you're going to limit the possession of firearms, let's start with people who've been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have exercised very poor judgment. And that's one class of people that I have no problem saying should not be in possession of a device which can so easily kill other human beings."


Crippen has a hell of a time answering the standard jailhouse inquiry, "What are you in for?"

"I don't really know what to say, because I don't really know," she says. "I've seen a lot rougher women than me come through and do a lot less time for a lot more violent crimes. They come in for armed robbery, assault, and they're out in a year or less, and I'm still here."

Last May 30, Crippen typed Matsch a plaintive thank-you note from the prison library at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility.

"Your honor, I am still in the State facility for these 21 odd months for that picture I had taken while on Parole. Do you remember me? I was tried and convicted in your court? They tried to give me 78 months and you gave me only 18 months.

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