As recounted in the April story "The Boy Who Wouldn't Tell," Alan Sudduth has spent more than half his 31 years behind bars for the 1995 killing of Denver cab driver Finley Bradshaw Myers, even though somebody else -- a friend of Sudduth's named Nicholas Reed -- has repeatedly confessed to the murder, most recently at a dramatic 2008 court hearing. In January, an Arapahoe County judge ruled Sudduth's original lawyers hadn't been effective, paving the way for a new trial -- but now the Court of Appeals has reversed that ruling.
According to Sudduth's appeal, he took the fall for the murder because, as the second cousin of Michael Asberry, founder of the local gang Rollin' 30 Crips, Sudduth was apparently deathly afraid of the gangland repercussions of snitching on Reed. He says that because his lawyers didn't fully explain the seventy-year sentence he was facing, he took the first plea deal he was offered. It wasn't until he was behind bars that he realized he wouldn't be looking at the possibility of parole for decades.
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But in a unanimous ruling, the Court of Appeals found that Sudduth waited too long to appeal his case based on ineffective counsel, overturning the Arapahoe County judge's January finding that the court system had been so unresponsive to Sudduth -- the court repeatedly ignored his hand-written legal appeals and lawyers assigned to the case never bothered to look into it -- that he hadn't run out of time to fight the ruling.
The Court of Appeals ruling clearly stung Alison Ruttenberg, the dogged post-conviction legal specialist who's taken up Sudduth's cause. It took her a month to send word to Westword about the Court of Appeals ruling. Still, she's not giving up hope; she'll soon be petitioning the Colorado Supreme Court to hear Sudduth's case. She's taking solace from the fact that the Court of Appeals did not touch on the Arapahoe County judge's finding that Sudduth's original lawyers had been ineffective, meaning the fact that he didn't receive adequate legal counsel is still the law of the case.
Maybe that will be enough for the Supreme Court to find in his favor. But in the meantime, Sudduth will continue to sit behind bars.