By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
"Look, Alan, if I could take this back, I would," Reed said. "If I could bring it all on myself, I would. If I could bring every single drop of pain you experienced, I would. If I could take all the time and put it on me, I would. I'm sorry for getting you involved in something like this. And I pray, I pray that when I die, I'm forgiven for this and that one day you forgive me, too, and your family forgives me. I am truly sorry, and I wish, I pray, I pray every day that this is absolved and what was wrong is made right."
Nicholas Reed had confessed to the crime in open court, but Alan Sudduth's case was far from over. After all, his appeal wasn't based on any claim of innocence, but rather on whether his lawyers had done their jobs right. That's why Ruttenberg also called Ann Sussman and Pamela Brown, Alan's original defense attorneys, to the stand.
Neither could remember much about the case. Neither could recall whether they'd inspected the crime scene or forensic reports, whether they'd looked into Nicholas's repeated confessions, whether they'd considered the fact that there hadn't been a robbery. They were both certain they hadn't staged a crime-scene reenactment. That's why Ruttenberg and Maxwell had done one themselves, renting a similarly sized vehicle from Yellow Cab and re-creating the shooting in the parking garage of Maxwell's Cherry Creek office building. According to Maxwell's testimony in court, the test suggested that the only way that Alan could have fired the bullet was if he'd been holding the gun nearly over his head.
Finally, Ruttenberg called up Carberry, the lawyer who'd helped her earlier in the case, since he often served as an expert witness at hearings that focused on ineffective defense lawyers. Carberry testified that after reviewing the evidence, he was shocked that Brown and Sussman had advised Alan to take the plea deal instead of fighting the charges at trial.
In fact, he said, "It's one of the most defendable murder cases I've ever seen."
Judge Levi apparently concurred. On January 5, 2010, just a few days shy of retirement, he ruled in Alan Sudduth's favor — vacating his conviction and granting him a new trial.
Alan Sudduth is once again poised between two worlds.
He sits alone in the large, empty visiting room of Limon prison, a world where nothing ever changes — not the daily work-eat-sleep routine, not the lousy chicken-and-beans cuisine, not the dreary view of the prison gym and barber shop he gets from his slit of a cell window. He's spent 15 of his 31 years in this world, passing his GED, honing his computer and drawing skills, developing a business plan for a graphic-design company.
Just outside the visiting-room window, past the metal fences and razor wire, the Colorado sky stretches for miles. There's another world out there, a world where he might be able to start that business, a world where his nieces and nephews have grown up and gone to college. In that world, no one talks anymore about Finley Myers, a single man whose parents have both passed away. But in his prison world, Sudduth vividly recalls — and regrets — every moment of Myers's last night alive.
He's been in this world so long that when the judge ruled in his favor in January, Sudduth nearly lost his bearing. "At this moment, I am still lost on this emotional roller coaster because of how quick the process went," he wrote to Ruttenberg after the ruling. "But I can taste something that I've gotten unfamiliar with, which is freedom. When? I don't know. But Lord willing, soon."
"We believe that the original plea agreement in the case was appropriate," says Mike Knight, chief investigator for the DA's office. "We still believe that the evidence will support the guilt of the defendant."
While Reed's confession on the stand seems pretty strong evidence to the contrary, Knight suggests that there may have been underlying factors that inspired that confession — such as Sudduth's connection to the Rollin' 30 Crips, something that finally came out during the appeal hearings. "There's a multitude of issues at play with this case, not the least of which were the gang members involved," Knight says. "We are seeking justice here. We are not trying to keep someone in prison who didn't do something."
As for the ruling granting Sudduth a new trial, Knight says, "I don't think there are any secrets that there were a lot of problems with Judge Levi.... We believe he was a problem judge."
Levi declined to comment on the matter while Sudduth's case is pending. McHugh, the original prosecutor, no longer works for the DA's office and also refused to comment. Reed did not respond to a letter sent to the Sterling prison, and his lawyer, Craig Truman, refused to talk about the case without his client's permission — and declined to contact Reed to see if he wanted to grant it. Both Brown and Sussman, Sudduth's original defense lawyers, prefer to let their court testimony during the appeal hearing speak for itself.