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Sixteen-year-old Tara Perry followed her man into crime and madness

Sixteen-year-old Tara Perry followed her man into crime and madness
Mark Manger
Since her 1999 arrest, Tara Perry has gone from a suicide watch to a college degree. Prison, she says, "has been like a sanctuary for me." Watch a video interview with Perry.

They know how to make an entrance, these bad boys. They strut into the King Soopers on Smoky Hill Road on a Friday evening in May like it's fight night in Vegas and they've got ringside seats, their every move radiating heat and menace.

There are four of them, all wearing ski masks and gloves and toting big handguns and semi-auto carbines. The message is clear: Attention, shoppers. Don't fuck with us.

They have an Explorer outside that they jacked in Cherry Creek, the driver now a duct-taped hostage in the cargo area. They have enough ammo to take out the dairy section and enough adrenaline to jump-start a whale. Before anybody can think about being a hero, they light the place up, firing shots in the air and shouting, "Get down!"

Some do as they're told. Others run, frightened by the gunfire and the masks. And that's when the shoppers notice the fifth member of the crew, rushing to her assigned station at the store entrance. She's a mere wisp of a girl, sixteen years old and five-two, maybe a hundred pounds, awkwardly clutching a .22 semi-auto with a 72-round clip, the muzzle pointed straight in the air.

Tara Perry is late to the robbery. While the others piled out of the Explorer, she was left in the back, fumbling with the door lock; she finally had to climb over the front seat to get out. She stands just inside the store, tugging at the nylon stocking over her head, which is sticking to her long eyelashes and making it hard to see.

The air is thick with gunsmoke. Squinting, Tara can catch a glimpse of Randy Miller, her boyfriend, shooting at the locked door of an office where the cash is kept. Ateba Bailey cradles a mini-14 and stands very still. The other two men — kids, really, not much older than her — are bouncing around. One clubs a sacker with his pistol. She doesn't even know their names, these two; Ateba brought them, and she just met them a few minutes ago. They're rushing around to no purpose, and time seems to have stopped.

The trigger on her .22 is softer than she expected. Before she knows it, she has sprayed the ceiling with bullets. She freaks and drops the rifle. Everybody is staring at her, and it's as if she's staring, too. She's out of her body somewhere, watching all this happen to someone else, watching it unfold like a movie.

For Perry, the entire three-day crime spree was like a movie — a detached, grim import, maybe, the most joyless "spree" imaginable. A movie with a bad ending, directed by a man whose one goal in this world was to find a suitably violent exit from it.

Three months before it all started, she'd been a shy sophomore at Aurora Central High School, a member of the soccer and speech teams. Then Randy Miller had come out of prison and back into her world. A 22-year-old former child prostitute and drug dealer, Miller had promised to take her away from a tumultuous and painful home life. But the journey he had in mind led downward, into a terrifying series of home invasions and armed robberies and, finally, a few hours after the King Soopers stickup, to a standoff with state troopers in a small Kansas town.

That was where the movie ended for Miller, who killed himself rather than surrender. But not for Perry. The robberies had gone down just weeks after the 1999 Columbine shootings, in a state besieged with demands to crack down on teen violence. Charged as an adult, Perry was sentenced to 66 years in prison for attempted murder, robbery, assault and other crimes. (The "attempted murder" rap stemmed from the gunfire inside the King Soopers.) The total was later reduced to forty years, but her sentence is still the longest of any juvenile in the state who didn't actually kill or maim anyone.

Forty years is more time than people receive for second-degree murder or, in many cases, for rape or for beating their own children to death. Perry has already done more hard time than Lisl Auman, sentenced to life for felony murder in 1998 after a burglary cohort killed a Denver police officer — but moved to community corrections seven years later, after her cause was taken up by Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp. That Perry has been buried in the adult system for thirteen years now, with no end in sight, incenses many of her longtime friends and supporters.

"She's been there so long," says Mary Michaud, who was Perry's English teacher at Aurora Central. "It's sort of like sending a kid to their room forever. At what point does this stop being anything good and just become cruelty?"

Yet Perry, now 29, doesn't talk much about the harshness of her sentence, or of having spent nearly half her life behind bars. She doesn't offer excuses, doesn't blame others for her actions. She would rather talk about the life that began with her arrest, amid misery and death, and has developed into something unscripted and unexpected. No longer the battered and broken accomplice to Miller's rampage, she has become an educated, independent model of rehabilitation and remorse, an inspiration to inmates and staff alike — and, perhaps, a few steps closer to redemption and freedom than she dares to hope.

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34 comments
anonymous
anonymous

she made her choice to follow him, to fumble through a store robbery, etc - she is now living with that choice. i don't say that to be mean towards her or any of her family, it's just the facts. i knew Randy, i saw what he was about, i experienced his manipulations and his temper first hand  - the terror he brought into my life. he changed my life, not in a good way. but it seemed the older he got, people of our age got, the younger crowd he kept friends with. it was easier for him to impress them, to get away with things. it is unfortunate the impact his path has had on people around him. what he put me and other close friends through, i wouldn't wish on anyone. 
I'm sorry, but at what point did holding a gun & pulling a mask down over your face seem logical, that you would follow him into this madness? there are always opportunities to walk away, leave a bad situation - she just didn't take hers...period.

chipperthomas75
chipperthomas75

I doubt Tara will ever get to read this.  But she should know that even through concrete walls and steel bars she made an impact on my life.  I talked to her and remember watching her go from a 'sadgirl' to a 'sparkle'.  I miss her and I am glad to see and read that she is doing so good for herself, that she has made the best out of a bad situation.  I have no idea how to get a hold of her anymore or even where she is, but Brandon...or her mom..or her sister if you read this tell her to write her old friend in Wisconsin.  She has not only touched people there, but here as well.  She inspired me.

Do I feel bad for Tara?  No.  i am proud of her, not proud of what she did, but what she has done and continues to do with her life and faith.  Stay strong and keep Sparkling Tara.

Brandon or anyone in her family that reads this tell her the next time you talk to her or visit her that even after 10 years I still pray for her and you all.  God Bless you all!

Her old penpal Chris from Wisconsin

mevianne
mevianne

I really feel for Tara. Randy Miller surrounded himself with people that were impressionable, and that he could control. I knew him since he was 15, and was involved with him during the time Tara was. I did not know about Tara, and seperated myself from him during the last year of his life. In hindsight, it is hard to imagine getting so caught up in a person, knowing they are on the wrong path. But like Tara, I loved him and did many things I regret. Now, I work in the criminology field, and have a better understanding of youths involved in crime and the flawed American justice system. I feel Tara should be given a second chance to make a life for herself outside a cell.

alehound
alehound

I wonder if they cut up her hotdogs? o.0

Kelly Kettle
Kelly Kettle

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Lynne Jenkinson
Lynne Jenkinson

Forty Years is ridiculous. Why? what is the point? She was a child at the time probably attracted by the boyfriends bad boy image (as many wowmen are unfortunately) I suspect very strongly that he groomed her . She should be released so that she can get on with her life. She is more mature now people in Britain get less for murder I think that The American justice system is unnecesarily hard. The purpose of prison should be to reform .> How willshe cope with life if she is released in 30+ years time

Dolly Dagger
Dolly Dagger

Tara's getting screwed big time. Undoubtedly each of the persons who made/support this judgment is a "Christian" Republican/teabagger. They'll be happy to legislate their "values" and claim that they do "What Jesus Would Do". Sickening waste of a decent human being while THEY satisfy their biblical blood thirst. #FreeTara

Brandon Plante
Brandon Plante

I am Tara Perrys lil brother and i know what she did was bad. But she did Not deserve 44 years. And to all the people that say something like boo hoo, or that sucks, or some dumb ass remark, go fuck your self. To the rest of you kind people that want to support her, we thank you from the bottom of our heart. FREE TARA...

Missy
Missy

WOW! What a story! Kudos to her for taking responsibility for her part in the mess and turning herself around! It's hard when you come from only negative, and then make your life even more negative with really bad choices. But it sounds like she is doing what could be seen as the impossible. She's becoming the exception to the rule! You go girl!

Kathryn Elich
Kathryn Elich

Wish her the best - making the most out of a bad situation. Freeing your mind from crisis events is a full time job. And her surroundings keep reminding her of it. That they didn't have her down in the computer yet .... and she has to reapply when the glitch is fixed. Unreal.Wish her the best.

Living in Colorado
Living in Colorado

Wow. This young lady took a horrible situation, and has worked to change it. She could sit there and blame her mom, the boyfriend, even society for her current situation, but she has stood up and accepted responsbility for her actions, attempted to make amends and face it by meeting with the victims and help others do the same. I wish some of the "non convicts" were as caring as this young lady. I say they should review the case and let her go. We have all kinds of people released due to overcrowding and yet this young lady stays. How about letting her out and keeping that drug addict/prostitute who has been arrested 20 times in jail a little longer??????

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AnyBodyButObama 2012
AnyBodyButObama 2012

Yeah, blame a man for your own choices. Not only are men responsible for their own choices, this fool is trying to convince me that men are responsible for their choices. Typical feminist. There are 2 kinds of women, feminist and feminine. REAL men want feminine, nobody wants a feminist.

Tony
Tony

im usally a hard azz normally id say lock em all up for life but in this case she was young and the dude brainwashed her id say 13 years is long enough im sure she would be a model citizen now

Eochaid
Eochaid

This is one of the saddest stories I have ever heard in my 47 years on this mudball we live in,The judge in this case clearly tried to set an example with this young lady.And sentanced her very harshley,60 years for shooting the ceiling?Reduced to 40 years?She was only 16 years old,more than likely under the influence of drugs,or alchohol, and brain washed and or coerced in some way into participating in this crime.The powers that be ought to reconsider a bit of leiniency and mercy on a child that was taken advantage of by adult carreer criminals. P.W.

AlanPrendergast
AlanPrendergast

I appreciate all the comments we've been receiving about Tara's story, online and privately. One reader asked me to post information on how to support her parole application. The earliest hearing is still a couple of years away, but letters of support could be sent to her directly if people are so inclined:

Tara Perry, #104436Denver Women’s Correctional FacilityPO Box 392005Denver, CO 80239

Citizen Jenn
Citizen Jenn

This is another fantastic story, Alan, and I always look forward to reading your features.

I understand the arguments made for victim's rights, and I've heard the criticisms made about Westword being overly-sympathetic to convicted criminals, but it does no harm to read and try to understand the reasons why these people committed crimes; how they got from point A to point B, and these stories also offer some glimpses into our criminal justice and prison systems. Cases like this help me form the opinion that allowing parole for genuinely reformed, productive, remorseful prisoners would provide society with far more advantages than paying to feed and house them when there are other convicts who need to be fed and housed, and kept behind bars.

"The greatness of America is in how it treats its weakest members: the elderly, the infirm, the handicapped, the underprivileged, the unborn." ~Bill Federer

She was born and raised into a life of poverty, crime and violence, and while this is not an excuse for her behavior, these are reasons for it. It's difficult to predict how clemency will be received and acted upon in the future, but she seems like someone who would make good on a second chance at freedom.

Laura Jo Emry
Laura Jo Emry

I know Tara's story all too well... She is my baby sister.... In addition she is by far one of the most intelligent, resilient, amazing and humble people that I have ever met. The support she has received and continues to receive is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Pamela Clifton
Pamela Clifton

Thank you for this Alan. I know Tara and she is certainly no criminal. She's a lovely young lady who got mixed up with the wrong person. People make mistakes...children make bigger ones. She has paid for this many times over. If anyone deserves a second chance, it's Tara.

Perry1021
Perry1021

she is my neice ,set her free she is not a criminal ,

MMM
MMM

Dolly you are a fU#$ing BIGOT Democrat Liberal

Poindexter
Poindexter

Really?!? That's how you build up support for your sister (assuming you really are her brother)? As a reader I had some empathy for her story and situation... then you jump in here and tell anybody who doesn't to "fuck yourself." So now I question what kind of situation she's gonna return to with you in her life. I don't have any say in it (of course) but if it makes me question, it probably makes others as well. Not really the way to win hearts and minds...

Reynaloca713
Reynaloca713

Actually she blamed herself for not being able to say NO.

wyrob
wyrob

She was a MINOR. He was in his 20's. How does that figure into your dumbass ideals of what "REAL men" want?

femininevsfeminist
femininevsfeminist

Did you even read the article? How ignorant... Or maybe just illiterate. No blame was being placed on "a man". This young lady, has accepted not only her guilt, but also her punishment. P.s. the story was written by a man, guess he is a feminist.

Zuniga_natasha
Zuniga_natasha

I know Tara personally. We lives in the kind inn at three same time and went to the same school, walked home from school, my uncle was her uncle(Louis). She would have never done this if it weren't for randy. She was never that type Of person. She was a great and caring friend. She is still, to this day thought about and missed. She's not making excuses for her self or trying to blame it in a man, she's reeling her true story.

AnyBodyButObama 2012
AnyBodyButObama 2012

Yeah, blame a man for your own choices. Not only are men responsible for their own choices, this fool is trying to convince me that men are responsible for their choices. Typical feminist. There are 2 kinds of women, feminist and feminine. REAL men want feminine, nobody wants a feminist.

Perry1021
Perry1021

she is my neice and i apreciate your remarks greatly thanx Robert perry

wyrob
wyrob

yeah, I'm crying about the million it'll cost taxpayers to keep her in jail for 40 YEARS, for NOT killing or injuring anyone during crimes committed as a fucking minor!what the fuck were you crying about, nova?

Ticklemecute1
Ticklemecute1

And I suppose you never had it hard right (nova. What ever) the kid had it hard give her a break fuck nobodys perfect.. Good story my laura thanks for sharing

 
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