Terms of Endearment

Give me a C! Give me a U! What do you have? The start of the year's biggest scandal.

Denver cut a strange psychological profile this past year, as schizo as a Colorado winter. The Nuggets filled the Pepsi Center, and the Broncos fumbled. Suburbia got hip, and Colfax got somewhat civilized. It was a good year for the young and upwardly mobile, and a bad year for homeless people, babies and prosecutors of sexual-assault cases.

Before we dive headlong into 2005, join us on a whirlwind tour of some high, and very low, moments from the year that was.


In January, the University of Colorado at Boulder suddenly knocks the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs from its perch as the most sexually hostile campus in the nation. The push comes from a deposition given by Boulder District Attorney Mary Keenan, and leaked to the press, in connection with a federal lawsuit filed against CU by three women. The women all claim that they were sexually assaulted at, or after, a recruiting party in December 2001; although her office does not press charges, Keenan makes a case that the CU athletic department uses sex and booze to woo desirable football players. The CU scandal continues to grow throughout 2004, even as the school loses its number-one-party-school status. Meanwhile, the Air Force Academy reports a record number of female applicants for the Class of 2008.

In February, smartie astronomers at the Boulder-based Space Science Institute use a high-powered telescope in Hawaii to detect hydrogen peroxide in the Martian atmosphere -- a discovery that could explain why the Red Planet hasn't yet made contact: Hydrogen peroxide, a kind of cosmic bleach, kills living organisms. But even gallons of that life-killing chemical wouldn't be enough to spiritually sanitize the Grand Junction courthouse where Michael Blagg's murder trial gets under way in March. A former acquaintance of Blagg's testifies that, at a dinner with female co-workers, he boasted he felt lucky to be "a single guy out for dinner and drinks with three beautiful women" -- at a time when Grand Junction was plastered with posters pleading for clues in the disappearance of Blagg's wife, Jennifer, and six-year-old daughter, Abby. Though Abby is never found, Jennifer's body is discovered five months after that dinner, a bullet through her skull. In April, Blagg is found guilty of shooting his wife in the face while she slept.

In May, the Belmar development opens on the former site of Villa Italia, bringing an unlikely union of retail shopping and scrappy, progressive art to beautiful downtown, ahem, Lakewood. The mother of all planned communities takes a similar cultural cue in November, when the Tattered Cover opens a third store in Highlands Ranch.

The Downtown Denver Partnership commissions six "safety ambassadors" to spread goodwill to conventioneers and consumers on the 16th Street Mall, lest they be scared off by the outstretched hands of homeless people and other mall rats. The Do-Good brigade is dispatched in May to help said homeless find food and shelter -- and to encourage them to skeedaddle from the pedestrian tourist-fare, which soon christens a new, marginally improved Skyline Park in July. But even the smiling safety squad has to admit it doesn't have a lot to offer the city's homeless. In July, Mayor John Hickenlooper's Commission to End Homelessness rejects Denver Tent City's proposal to erect a non-permanent shelter on open space somewhere in town; commissioners argue that tent dwellings would be a temporary fix that falls far short of their stated goal of eradicating homelessness in Denver by the year 2014. By the end of the year, however, that population is estimated to have swelled to 11,000, with a record number of homeless deaths.

Jefferson County can't be bothered with such petty issues as homelessness; it's got bigger troubles closer to home. On May 18, a man who looks suspiciously like county commissioner Rick Sheehan is videotaped sending obscene faxes to Mike Zinna, muckraking maestro of the virulently anti-bureaucrat website JeffcoExposed.com. Over a two-month period, Zinna receives other colorful missives from "Pinky T," an anonymous mother-faxer with a fondness for pink leather thongs. Fortunately, Sheehan is not seen wearing this undergarment on camera. Even so, by the end of the year, fellow commissioners are calling for Sheehan to resign.

Lovelorn yuppies in search of thong-wearing babes get a boost in June when Forbesanoints Denver the nation's "Best City for Singles." The online description of our lusty population is positively gushing: "Looking for jobs galore, cheap beer and highly educated, unattached young people? Head for the mountains!" But editors follow that coo by warning, "The nightlife is still in its adolescence. The Lower Downtown area, where the action is, is dominated by beer-swilling, crowded fraternity fests." (Not to quibble, Forbes, but you forgot mace-wielding cops and riot police.) Elsewhere, as Marvin Heemeyer thrashes Granby in a bulldozer, Hunter S. Thompson trashes Denver in the pages of Vanity Fair with "Prisoner of Denver," a disjointed rant on cowboy culture, the felony-murder case of Lisl Auman -- and the Denver Police Department.

Good thing Thompson's piece goes to bed before the July shooting death of 63-year-old Frank Lobato, who's lying in bed when he makes the mistake of pointing a soda can at a Denver cop. By August, the city has logged 61 homicides, including the stabbing deaths of Colorado Free University founder John Hand and cab driver Mesfin Gezaghn; nineteen-year-old Amber Torrez is charged in both men's murders. In another unsettling crime wave, three babies are found dead and abandoned -- one in a dumpster, one in the restroom of a Cherry Creek bar.

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