In her "Urgent Call to Action" messages, Lewis described the bill as a "sneak attack" that had been presented in violation of the notification provisions of the Victim Rights Act. "Victims' families who would have been directly affected by this legislation were NOT notified of the hearing," she wrote. "Victims who could not come raised objections to the violations of their constitutional rights to be notified and heard.

"Some of the offenders that this legislation would offer early release to are cop-killers...others killed their whole families. One of the offenders — Erik Jensen — comes from a wealthy family. He threatened his parents that if they did not get him out of prison in ten years, he would kill himself. They have sunk everything into creating the Pendulum Foundation, which is focused just on getting him out.

"We who have seen the horror of murder have to be stronger and louder now than those who work to free these killers and to deliberately re-traumatize the families of murder victims."

Joe Cannata began aiding crime victims after he wasn't allowed to speak when the killer of his daughter Lynn was sentenced.
mark manger
Joe Cannata began aiding crime victims after he wasn't allowed to speak when the killer of his daughter Lynn was sentenced.
Nancy Lewis is the executive director of COVA, the most influential victim advocacy group in the state.
mark manger
Nancy Lewis is the executive director of COVA, the most influential victim advocacy group in the state.

Mary Ellen Johnson, Pendulum's executive director, replied to Lewis's scorching e-mail with one of her own, saying that COVA's broadside was "filled with erroneous information, and in at least one case, an outright lie." It wasn't Pendulum's duty to notify crime victims of pending legislation, she pointed out; if anyone had that obligation, it was the district attorneys and COVA itself. The bill's supporters weren't advocating "early release" of all the lifers convicted as juveniles, either. As for Jensen, he "never threatened his parents or uttered any of the rest of your nonsense.... Furthermore, the Pendulum Foundation was never created solely to get the Jensens' son out."

While Jensen's parents supplied major support to launch Pendulum, the nonprofit has since developed other large donors, Johnson says. She insists that not all victim groups opposed the LWOP reform bill — but the victims who supported it evidently don't speak for COVA or vice versa. "They tried to paint us as being very sneaky," she says. "The fact is, there had been a lot of communication between the bill's sponsors and the DAs."

Lewis doesn't expect the LWOP issue to go away. While she says she's sympathetic to the idea that many people who committed horrific crimes as juveniles were themselves abused, it rankles her when people refer to offenders as "victims" of a broken system. In her view, there's a very distinct line between perpetrators and victims.

"It's not that I don't want to build consensus," Lewis says. "But with some people, I just disagree with where they're going."

******

Sharletta Evans left her two young sons and their teen cousin in the car while she went into a relative's house in northeast Denver. It was 1995, and the neighborhood had been plagued by recent drive-bys. Evans had come to retrieve another child and take him out of the line of fire.

Gangbangers cruising the area mistook her car for the ride of some rivals. They opened fire on the car and the duplex while Evans was inside. One of the bullets claimed her youngest, Casson Xavier Evans, better known as Biscuit, as he slept in the back of the parked car. He was three years old.

The shooters, fifteen-year-old Paul Littlejohn and sixteen-year-old Raymond Johnson, were sentenced to life without parole. Biscuit's mother was sentenced to grief and sorrow and trying to find a path through something that didn't make sense at all.

The victim advocates did what they could. "They made sure my family understood the charges and that we knew whenever there was a hearing," Evans recalls. "There was victim compensation that helped us bury our son."

But after the killers were put away, the support apparatus moved on to the next case. And everyone seemed to expect Evans to move on, too. "You're getting full attention, and then you're just kind of left," she says.

Evans became involved in anti-violence campaigns and started a program for at-risk kids called RedCross BlueShield Gang Prevention. She struggled with the bitterness of her loss and sought to forgive the two boys, now men, who had taken her son from her. A turning point came when Littlejohn's mother asked if she could come see her.

"She came to me and took responsibility," Evans says. "She expressed how her actions, her lack of parenting, aided in his decision-making. She apologized for him and for herself."

The visit convinced Evans that she wasn't wasting her time in her gang-prevention efforts, which focused on promoting parenting and addressing the "hole" in the life of the typical gangbanger. "It let me know I was on the right track," she explains. "It was a huge part of my healing."

Both of the shooters have written letters from prison expressing remorse for the killing. Two years ago, Evans decided that she wanted to meet Raymond Johnson face-to-face: "I felt I had reached a cap in my healing, and I needed to go further. This was something I needed to do for myself, my family and my community, as well, which has been affected by this. I would like it to be effective for him, too, so he can be the most productive person he can be in his situation."

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7 comments
Guest
Guest

Some good points in here but the reporting is pretty one-sided.

For instance: Why no mention of the fact that the while COVA was urging their supporters to contact Rep. Duran and ask her to vote against HB 1287 the Pendulum Foundation was making the exact same plea to their supporters to get Rep. Duran to change her vote?

Also, you point out COVA's lobbying efforts several times but I didn't see any mention of the fact that the Pendulum Foundation is a client of J. William Artist & Associates, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Colorado.

I freely admit my bias - a family member was killed by one of the men whose sentence would have been retroactively reduced under HB 1287 - but if you're going to claim objectivity in your reporting, you should at least make an effort to not let your bias color the story.

calhounp
calhounp

I'd like to publish some of these comments in our print Letters to the Editor section -- ideally with your full name/town. Let me know if that's okay at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

JusticeForAll
JusticeForAll

COVA has always been a direct arm of law enforcement and is so disconnected from the needs and voices of victims they claim to represent. They are far too systems oriented and it is abhorrent that money that VALE takes from direct service agencies is being given to COVA through the nepotism of personal relationships that exist between Nancy Lewis and her hand-picked board of directors.

On Fire
On Fire

Okay. Apparently COVA sees some victims as worth helping and others as not. The victims worth helping include abusive parents and the poor feeble prosecutors who are just trying to build political careers on the backs of abused children. The victims not worth helping are abused children themselves. Got it.

TruthSeeker
TruthSeeker

This was an amazing story. It's finally time that people started taking a look at the money trail of these organizations, especially COVA. They've been in the pockets of the systems-based agencies for years and get money funneled to them for their support. It's no accident that the Denver VALE administrator and co-administrator both serve on COVA's board and routinely take money away from direct-service agencies and hand it over to COVA. They do not speak for victims and I applaud the many agencies who have stood up to COVA to truly speak for their clients. Many of those folks have had their funding taken away by COVA's board members, who handle so much of the victim services funds in Colorado. Shame on COVA.

Catherine
Catherine

Thank you, Mr. Prendergast, for a very enlightening and in-depth story. Also, thank you to Mr. Lee for trying to find an outside the box solution to crime and community healing. The program might need finesse, but I believe it is an important step in the right direction. I hope that other Coloradoans support the measure. Catherine Keske.

Maryellen
Maryellen

Advocates for changing sentencing laws for juveniles serving life have always acknowledged that this issue is extremely complicated. There is no denying the pain of the victims and we advocates for sentencing reform have never done so. However in the past when we tried to introduce changes in the laws, we have been summarily dismissed by COVA and many district attorneys. "No, no, no." "The system is just fine the way it is." Our experience has been similar to Rep. Lee's. One year when we wrote voluntary restorative justice language into a bill, victims groups opposed it saying, "It has to be voluntary." When we pointed out that the provision WAS voluntary, they ignored the wording, pretending that it didn't say precisely what it DID say. No compromise, no changes are needed, regardless of evolving public opinion, scientific advances in the area of teen brain development, studies showing that juveniles receive harsher sentences than adults for the same crimes, and recent supreme court rulings.

We have enough obstreperousness on a national level. We in Colorado must be more thoughtful than that.

Kudos to Alan Prendergrast for a fresh look at a difficult issue. Victims are not a monolithic group and victims' rights groups, such as COVA, would be well served to expand their vision to include more restorative justice and to listen to the voices of victims who seek a measure of redemption and rehabilitation for offenders rather than endless punishment.

Somewhere amid all this pain and destruction there are areas of agreement and healing. I hope Alan's article and Rep. Pete Lee's legislation will be a step in that direction.Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive DirectorThe Pendulum Foundation

 
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