By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
As soon as Maxwell walked into the prison visiting room, she realized she had her work cut out for her. Sitting at a table with his tattooed arms crossed firmly in front of his still diminutive frame, Sudduth stared at her with the mistrust of someone who'd been snubbed by the legal system for the past dozen years.
Soon after he'd learned that he wouldn't be eligible for parole for thirty years, Sudduth had begun fighting his conviction, teaming up with jailhouse lawyers to type out one appeal after another, all arguing that he'd been mis-advised about his plea deal and misled about the aggravated robbery charge. Some of his filings were ignored outright by Arapahoe County; the one motion a judge took the time to consider was denied in 1996 — though the court never bothered to let Sudduth know. Even after the Court of Appeals finally responded to one of his petitions in 1999 and ruled that the district court should look at whether Sudduth had been misinformed by his defense lawyers, nothing seemed to change.
In fall 2007, when the entire Limon prison was on lockdown after an inmate had slit a guard's throat, Sudduth had sat in his cell and penned a hand-written, last-ditch appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court. This letter finally made the difference: The Supreme Court demanded action on the Court of Appeals ruling that had been ignored since 1999.
Now here was Maxwell to look into his case — but would she be any more competent than the rest?
Maxwell had seen that attitude before. As a former correctional officer — and before that a military police officer and a Colorado Springs cop — she'd been around tough guys all her life. She was also no stranger to bureaucratic wrongdoing: While working at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, she'd stood up to harassment and been vindicated in court. So she looked across the table at Sudduth and said she agreed with him: The system sucked. She knew that better than anybody. But she assured him that she and Ruttenberg were different.
Although Sudduth soon warmed to Maxwell, he wouldn't say anything to her about Myers's murder. Later, when he met Ruttenberg, he remained silent. Still, Ruttenberg believed there was enough evidence to expand the case beyond whether Sudduth's attorneys had misled him about the plea deal. And at a July 2008 hearing, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Thomas Levi agreed. While he said it was unlikely that the defense lawyers would have advised Sudduth he'd only serve ten years of a seventy-year sentence, he gave Ruttenberg time to prove that the public defenders hadn't adequately looked into the facts of the murder — over the strenuous objections of McHugh, the district attorney who'd prosecuted Alan in 1995 and was fighting his appeal, too.
During that hearing, Ruttenberg noticed that McHugh was lugging a hefty stack of papers — the original discovery in Sudduth's case, 2,000-plus pages of police reports and crime-scene investigations that she'd been told were long gone. Tom Carberry, a lawyer who was helping her with the hearing, asked McHugh if he could glance through the documents. After briefly flipping through, he looked up in shock. "This kid is innocent," he told Ruttenberg.
The DA's original argument that Sudduth had killed Myers was largely based on three facts: that two of those there that night — Nicholas and one of the girls — had suggested Alan was the killer; that Myers had been shot from the left side of the cab, the same side where Alan was sitting in the back seat; and that the gun had been found in Alan's possession.
But discovery Ruttenberg obtained from the Arapahoe County district attorney's office seemed to shoot much of that evidence full of holes. For starters, while one of the girls had heard Alan confess right after the murder, Nicholas had confessed, too, getting down on his knees and saying he'd killed a man. And while there was no evidence that Alan had ever again confessed to the crime, Nicholas had apparently done so repeatedly. In the days after the shooting, three of his friends had told detectives they'd heard Nicholas cop to the crime. And when Nicholas was arrested, he'd told police, "Did you hear about the cab driver that was killed by me?" Only after Nicholas was in custody and had spoken with his parents and his lawyer did he change his story and say that Alan had pulled the trigger. And when he'd given this version of events during a polygraph test, the results were inconclusive.
Then there was the crime-scene evidence that suggested Myers had been killed by someone standing outside of his left-hand window. While Alan would have had the shortest distance to walk from where he was sitting in the cab, blood splatter on the front passenger seat indicated that by the time Myers was shot, Nicholas had gotten out of the cab; he could have walked around to the driver's window, too.
Twelve years earlier, McHugh had told the court that physical evidence showed Nicholas could not have shot Myers. But Ruttenberg came to the opposite conclusion. An autopsy determined that the bullet had traveled left to right through Myers's skull at a slight downward angle, lacerating the top of his right ear when it exited. Considering that Myers was about 6' 1" and the cab was a Chevrolet Caprice, a big car, whoever had shot him must have been holding the gun at a considerable height off the ground — a height that Ruttenberg believed would have been difficult for a pipsqueak like Alan, but not so tough for Nicholas, who was half a foot taller.