By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
On the night of April 1, 1995, Alan Sudduth's mother was out, again, leaving the sixteen-year-old and his fourteen-year-old brother alone in their bleak two-bedroom apartment in Aurora. There was a world of ways in which they could get into trouble — and trouble soon knocked on the door.
Nicholas Reed, a kid who lived nearby, stopped by with the suggestion that he invite over a girl he'd met at the Buckingham Square Mall and her friend. A proposition like that would never have flown when Alan was younger and living under the doting care and strict rules of his paternal grandmother and, later, his uncle Reggie. In fact, Reggie had taken Alan to a church concert earlier that evening, and Alan was still wearing some of his best clothes: a dress shirt over black Dickies, clean British Knights. But Alan had been drifting away from that world since he'd moved in with his mother a few years earlier. His dad, lost to alcohol, crack and violence, hadn't been around for years, and his mom wasn't much better. These days, school was optional, while ripping and running the streets, smoking weed and chasing girls were all mandatory. So Alan told Nicholas to give the girls a call.
The two girls, white fifteen-year-olds from the southern suburbs, soon showed up in a car one had snatched from her parents. Alan was usually hyper and goofy — maybe to compensate for his 5' 2" frame, maybe to angle for the attention that came so easily from one side of his family and so rarely from the other — but he kept quiet for a while, unsure of what to do around girls like this. Still, the mood lightened once the boys broke out a deck of cards to play strip poker — as well as a fifth of Hennessy that Alan's mom had left out. Nicholas had also brought over a gun, a chrome 9mm Ruger, and he was flaunting it every chance he got.
Nicholas may have been trying to impress the girls — or he may have wanted to impress Alan. The boys didn't know each other well, but it was no secret that Alan's second cousin on his mother's side was Michael Asberry, founder of the Rollin' 30 Crips, a Denver set that had been spreading across town with a vengeance. Parts of Aurora had erupted into war zones, and gang members were regularly patrolling the 16th Street Mall. Two years earlier, there had been so many high-profile shootings that the period had been dubbed the "Summer of Violence." And Asberry, nicknamed Cyco, was in the middle of it all. He'd hold court at his house, deciding on street business, ruling on violations, doling out punishment. But he sometimes found time for his second cousins, checking to see if they were safe, making sure they knew the code of the streets. Alan's older stepbrother was already a gang member, and Alan and his younger brother seemed well on their way to becoming full-fledged Crips, too.
As the night wore on, the girls said they had to return the car before it was missed. No one was ready for the party to end, though, so they came up with a plan. The four drove to the girls' neighborhood in unincorporated Arapahoe County, dropped off the car and then walked to a nearby Amoco on East Dry Creek Road, where they called a cab to take them back to Alan's apartment.
The Yellow Cab pulled up around 6 a.m. As the foursome climbed in, the driver went into the gas station to see if they could break a twenty-dollar bill. Nicholas, sitting in the front seat, took the opportunity to hand his gun to Alan in the back, since Nicholas didn't have pockets in his Dickies jumpsuit. Alan slipped it into his pocket. Then, as the cab headed north, he dozed off in the back seat, buzzing from the Hennessy.
The boys had already decided that they'd run rather than pay for the cab, and they had the cabbie drop the girls off a block away from the International Apartments. That way, only two of them would have to run, and the girls would meet them back at Alan's place.
Just before dawn, the cab pulled into the parking lot behind the International Apartments.
The girls heard the gunshot as they were walking back to Alan's. At the apartment, they found both boys, breathing hard. The cab driver was dead, they said — and each bragged that he'd been the one to pull the trigger. Alan told one of the girls that he'd shot the driver, while Nicholas got down on his knees and started praying, saying he'd just killed a man. All four acted like they should just carry on — the boys showing off, trying to score, the girls playing along.
Meanwhile, around back, the cab driver was dying in his seat, a bullet from the Ruger having ripped through his skull.
The party ended soon enough, when a brother of one of the girls came to pick them up. By then, Alan had volunteered to hide the gun, and he and Nicholas had stopped talking about the shooting. Alan had learned one lesson well from Asberry, his gangbanging superhero cousin: You don't snitch. If you see a crime occur, you keep it to yourself. In this part of town, you didn't have much more than your reputation — and snitching would kill it faster than a bullet to the brain.
When Alan's younger brother woke up and his mom finally got home and both asked about the yellow tape stretching across the parking lot and the police bloodhound sniffing the apartment's corridors, Alan didn't say anything. And he kept silent six nights later, when police barged into the apartment and arrested him for murder.
As the cops pushed him to the floor and locked his hands behind his back with a zip tie, Alan held tight to one thought:
"Don't tell. Don't tell nothing."
Three days after his murder, a procession of sixty cabs wound around the State Capitol in memory of Finley Bradshaw Myers, the 44-year-old cab driver killed early on the morning of April 2. At a service in the Yellow Cab garage for Myers, a former art teacher moonlighting as a cabbie while he wrote a book, a colleague read from an autobiographical sketch that Myers had composed:
"He believes justice cries and is largely misunderstood."
"He believes he's guided by angels."
"He does not believe in the death penalty."
Myers was the fourth on-duty cabbie to be murdered in the metro area since January 1992. And a few hours after he was shot, another Yellow Cab driver was grazed by a bullet during an attempted robbery in Denver. Demanding to meet with then-governor Roy Romer, cab drivers called for the right to refuse fares in dangerous parts of town, for bulletproof glass dividers to be installed in their vehicles, for an in-cab monitoring system that police could follow. The outcry intensified when police announced they'd arrested a few fifteen- and sixteen-year-old kids for the murder.
The break had come when an anonymous caller phoned a tip line and said he'd heard a boy named Nicholas Reed, who had a lengthy juvenile record, bragging that he'd shot Myers. Soon after they picked up Nicholas, the cops nabbed Alan Sudduth and one of the girls who'd been with the boys that night.
Kids seemed to be running wild in Aurora. Including these three arrests, a dozen teens had been thrown behind bars over five days, with seven tied to killings. Two kids were accused of murdering a man while he used an ATM. A fifteen-year-old had allegedly assaulted two cops when they tried to arrest him for outstanding warrants. Two boys had reportedly shot a pizza-delivery man with a pellet gun, while another boy was said to have escaped from a group home, stolen a car and then crashed it in a police chase. Local detectives said they'd never seen anything like it. Myers's murder got the most attention, though. The media seemed particularly intrigued by the racial and social backgrounds of the accused, wondering how kids from such vastly different worlds might have come together to commit such a heinous crime.
The three were soon charged as adults, as Arapahoe County took advantage of a new law passed in the wake of the Summer of Violence that let prosecutors direct-file juveniles in adult court without first holding a hearing to determine whether the defendants should be taken out of juvenile court.
Standing in Arapahoe County District Court, Alan looked shocked as he heard the charges against him. If he was found guilty of first-degree murder, he'd be sentenced to life without parole. While Nicholas and the girl faced the same charge, investigators were already saying that the evidence suggested that Alan was the killer. Prosecutors had also charged the three with aggravated robbery, after witnesses said that Myers had tried and failed to change a twenty-dollar bill at the Amoco and the bill wasn't found at the crime scene.
The second girl was arrested a few months later and charged with conspiracy to murder. Both girls wound up taking a plea and getting sentenced to juvenile-offender prison until they were 21.
Alan sat in jail for five months before his mother showed up to visit, and she only stayed half an hour. His Uncle Reggie stopped by more often, but he was clearly disappointed in Alan, and didn't offer to get his nephew a private attorney to replace the public defenders he'd been assigned. Michael Asberry, now living in California, wrote to Alan, saying that he wished he could do the time for him and apologizing for not having explained the consequences of hanging with kids like Nicholas.
Alan held tight to Asberry's number-one rule: No snitching. After he was arrested, he'd refused to talk at all during police interviews. He never protested the charges to his family, never proclaimed his innocence. And while he told his public defenders, Pamela Brown and Ann Sussman, that they hadn't taken any money from Myers, he didn't say much more about what had happened that night. When the two pressed him about the murder, Alan finally told them it was his fault: He'd dropped the gun and it had accidentally gone off, killing Myers. After that, they stopped asking him about it.
That fall, his lawyers told Alan that they'd gotten him a deal. If he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated robbery, he'd get seventy years. If he didn't take it and went to trial and lost, they warned that he could be looking at the rest of his life behind bars. Sure, seventy years sounded like a long time. But Sussman did some calculations for Alan on a notepad, figuring out when he'd be eligible for parole. The way he heard it, he'd be out when he was 26.
Ten years behind bars. Alan could do that, if it meant he never had to point the finger at anybody, never had to snitch.
So at a disposition hearing in November 1995, Alan pleaded guilty to robbing and killing Myers. It didn't seem to register with Alan — or anyone else, really — when Brian McHugh, the lead Arapahoe County prosecutor on the case, told the judge that the missing twenty-dollar bill had actually been found in Myers's shirt pocket during the autopsy, so there hadn't been any robbery to plead to. McHugh also noted that Nicholas Reed, who'd taken a plea deal and been sentenced a month earlier to 48 years for second-degree murder, repeatedly took credit for the killing. But McHugh wrote off that confession as the posturing of a "remorseless braggart," telling the judge that "we can show from the physical evidence that he could not have done that."
Alan didn't argue then, and he stuck to the script two months later, when he was sentenced to seventy years. "I would like to apologize to the family and say I didn't mean to do what happened," he told the judge. But what he was really thinking was that he wanted to get all the court stuff over with so that he could start serving his ten years.
Those ten years suddenly looked a lot longer when Alan arrived at the Limon Correctional Facility. As guards walked him in, the cell block grew quiet. Although Alan had turned seventeen in jail, he looked several years younger — maybe fourteen or fifteen. But now here he was, locked away in an adult prison. Things got easier for Alan once word spread that he was related to Michael Asberry — a connection neither his attorneys nor the prosecutors had ever made. Asberry's name commanded respect behind bars. It gave Alan enough protection that he could revert back to his old ways, clowning around with his fellow inmates like the goofball teenager he was.
That is, until the day a few weeks into his time when an older inmate asked Alan why he was so upbeat. When Alan replied that he'd be out in ten years, the inmate took him to the prison law library. Looking up the rules for his sentence, Alan now saw that there was no way he'd be free in a decade. In fact, his first parole hearing wouldn't even be scheduled until 2026.
That was thirty years away.
In February 2008, Alison Ruttenberg received an urgent e-mail from the head of Colorado's Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel. The Colorado Supreme Court had just ordered that a hearing be scheduled without delay for a Limon inmate named Alan Sudduth. Back in 1999, Sudduth had won the right to have the Arapahoe County District Court consider whether his attorneys had incorrectly advised him that he would serve just ten years of his seventy-year sentence. But for some reason, Arapahoe County had failed to look into the matter for nearly a decade. Now the case had finally been sent to the OADC, an organization that provided attorneys for indigent defendants when the public defender's office faced scrutiny for its work on a case.
Ruttenberg, a Boulder-based private attorney, specialized in post-conviction appeals, many of them based on mistakes made by trial lawyers. Successes were rare; most years in Colorado, fewer than a dozen new trials were granted. But Ruttenberg was used to tough challenges: As a lawyer and captain in the Colorado National Guard, she'd blown the whistle on her commander for taking fighter jets on joy rides, and when the commander retaliated against her, the Pentagon had stepped in and found in Ruttenberg's favor. Now she agreed to take on Sudduth's case, to see if any mistakes had been made that were major enough to justify a new trial.
At first she'd thought it would be a fairly minor matter, one she could almost handle while holed up in bed, recovering from a freak accident three months earlier that had left her with two broken ankles. Ruttenberg started looking into the details of Sudduth's case — only to find most of those details missing. His file at the Arapahoe County Public Defender's office was empty, its contents destroyed. She managed to get her hands on the transcripts of his disposition and sentencing hearings, though, and those were enough to leave a bad feeling in her gut. For years, Sudduth had been attempting to withdraw his guilty plea to aggravated robbery, arguing that the crime had never occurred, but every court he'd reached out to and every lawyer he'd been assigned had ignored his complaint. Now, though, Ruttenberg saw that the prosecutor on the case had admitted in court that there had been no robbery. What's more, he'd suggested that someone else had repeatedly confessed to the murder.
To get to the bottom of it, Ruttenberg decided that someone had to visit Alan Sudduth in Limon — and since she was still bedridden, she called on J.R. Maxwell, a private investigator she worked with. While Ruttenberg was a whiz with documents and legal issues, Maxwell could get people to talk when no one else could.
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.
Was it rock-solid proof that Nicholas had done the deed? Not necessarily. But considering that there were no other witnesses to the crime, that detectives hadn't tested for gunshot residue on either of the boys' clothes and that investigators had already blundered at the crime scene by missing the twenty-dollar bill, the DA's original case against Alan was looking shaky. And all of this information could easily have been obtained by Alan's lawyers before they suggested he plead guilty and take seventy years in prison.
But if the evidence had pointed toward Nicholas, why would prosecutors have focused on Alan and given him the much tougher deal? Ruttenberg couldn't figure that out. Maybe in the uproar over the killing, they'd made an assumption about the murderer based on preliminary information — where Alan had been sitting in the cab, for example, or that he'd refused to talk. Then, as the public clamored for justice, they could have stuck with their original conclusion, trying their best to jam their square peg into a round hole. It probably didn't hurt that Nicholas had been represented by Craig Truman, one of the most recognized defense attorneys around, while Alan had been assigned a couple of overworked public defenders.
Yes, Alan had hidden the gun. But that made him guilty of accessory to murder, not necessarily of committing the crime itself.
To find out who had really murdered Myers, Ruttenberg had to hear exactly what had happened that night after Alan and Nicholas got out of the cab. And since Alan wouldn't tell her, that left only one person who could.
Alan Sudduth couldn't believe it when Nicholas Reed walked into the courtroom.
While the two had been incarcerated in the same Arapahoe County jail after they were arrested, they hadn't seen each other since Reed had taken his plea deal and been sent to prison in Sterling. Thirteen years later, here he was, shackled and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, being called to the stand as part of Judge Levi's November 2008 hearing to determine if Sudduth should be granted a new trial.
Ruttenberg had neglected — on purpose — to tell her client that she'd be calling Reed to testify. She'd also made sure the two had been kept apart the night before, when both were brought to the local jail in advance of the hearing. She didn't want anyone to accuse the two inmates of getting together and planning whatever it was that Reed was going to say.
And Reed was ready to talk. After he'd been sworn in, before Ruttenberg could ask him who'd killed Finley Myers, the answer blurted out of him: "I'm the one who did it. Alan didn't do it."
That admission shocked the members of Alan's family who were sitting in the courtroom. His younger brother, the uncle who'd taken him to church, the grandmother he'd lived with a child — they'd always assumed Alan had committed the murder, and he'd never told them otherwise. Now, even as they struggled to understand why Alan had never once said he was innocent, they started to hope he'd get a second chance.
Ruttenberg wasn't surprised, though. Three weeks earlier, Maxwell had gone to Sterling to meet with Reed, still serving out his 48-year sentence in that prison. At first he'd been combative, wanting to know who she was. Turned out that no one had visited him in prison since he'd been incarcerated — not his parents, not his brothers and sisters, not his lawyer. And soon he was hunched over the table in the visiting room, face in his hands, saying he'd killed Myers.
He'd told Maxwell that everyone had wanted him to point the finger at Alan — his family, his lawyer, even the cops. "You know, it's a hard thing when you got police in your ear saying, 'We know you didn't do it, just tell us what happened and maybe you can go home,'" he told her. But no matter what additional charges might come his way, he promised that he'd tell the whole story at Sudduth's hearing — adding with a grin, "I'll be there with polka dots on."
And now he was on the stand, minus the polka dots but explaining in detail how, when they'd gotten into an argument over the fare, he'd walked around the cab, taken the gun from Alan and shot Myers.
That put McHugh in an awkward position when he got up to cross-examine the witness. "Okay, so I'm clear: You're now confessing to first-degree murder?" he asked Reed.
"Whatever that entails," Reed replied coldly, the snake-like tattoo around his neck seeming to writhe as he shifted his head. In 1995, McHugh had been the prosecutor on his case, too — and Reed hadn't forgotten.
Still, the prosecutor pressed on: "Well, did you pull the trigger, fire a bullet into Finley Myers's brain?"
Nicholas didn't flinch. "Yes, I did."
When McHugh finished, Reed looked at Sudduth, who was staring at the floor. Ruttenberg had told him not to make eye contact with his old friend, so prosecutors couldn't suggest he was silently prompting him. But that didn't stop Reed from speaking his mind.
"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."
How soon? In February, the Arapahoe County DA's Office, under District Attorney Carol Chambers, appealed Levi's ruling.
"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.
But Arapahoe County DA Chambers is not so reticent. "I have had some questions about that case based on just a cursory review when the attorney who tried the case left the office, and some time ago asked our attorneys to take a good long look at the facts, resolution and fairness of the whole situation," she noted in an e-mail to Westword. In a follow-up e-mail, she added, "I am concerned about the case on a couple of levels and want to make sure we have all the information we can get to review it thoroughly."
In March, an Arapahoe County judge scheduled Alan Sudduth's new trial for July 19. But because the DA's office is now fighting Levi's ruling in the Court of Appeals, and the losing party will no doubt take the matter to the Supreme Court, Sudduth's trial could be postponed for several years — if it happens at all.
Sudduth tries to remain optimistic. Last year, after his little brother got out of prison for a probation violation, he quoted from the book The 33 Strategies of War in a letter to him: "You are judged in this world by how well you bring things to an end.... It is not a question of simply winning the war, but the way you win it, the way your victory sets you up for the next round."
To win this war, Sudduth knows that he'll finally have to do the thing he's been fighting against: admit to what happened the night Myers was killed.
"Pointing your finger at somebody else's actions is forbidden," he says, fidgeting in his seat in the visiting room. "I'll probably insult my own mother before I would tell on somebody. This is how I was raised. I'll probably die like this."
It doesn't matter that Reed has already confessed to the crime. Or that Michael Asberry was shot to death in Aurora in 2008 — which Sudduth compares to "your favorite TV show going off the air and not coming back on, like Superman dying."
None of that makes a difference. Sudduth still doesn't want to tell. Maybe he just doesn't want to do it while in prison, where snitching is more taboo than anywhere. Or maybe, as Ruttenberg suggests, his motive goes deeper. "I almost think he's afraid to lose the last shred of who he is," she says.
Or maybe it's that Sudduth believes that somehow his silence saved his life. He has no illusions about how he would have turned out if he hadn't been locked away when he was sixteen. "With the direction I was going and the way I looked up to Michael and my older brother," he admits, "I probably would have been dead or really earned a life sentence."
Still, when he returns to court in the coming months or years, he knows he'll have to break his rule if he wants to cross from this world inside to the world out there. It's like the five phrases he has tattooed across his chest. First there's "My death," representing the day he was charged with murder. Then there's "My viewing," signifying his plea bargain. "My burial" refers to his prison sentence, while "My resurrection" represents the day he won a new trial.
And then the last step, the one he's still waiting for: "My ascension."
To learn about Colorado's direct-file system for juvenile offenders and how it may have jeopardized Alan Sudduth's case, go to the Latest Word blog at westword.com. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.