This week's Westword feature, "The Quality of Mercy," looks at an option for cutting prison costs that Governor Bill Ritter hasn't tried -- reducing prison time for inmates who may have received excessively long sentences and are unlikely to pose a risk to public safety. The cases discussed in the article aren't necessarily the most deserving of clemency, but they represent different inequities in the system.
And when it comes to long sentences, few people can match the time heaped on burglar turned stick-up man Brett S. Klein.
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Klein has several burglary convictions dating back to 1979. But what put him inside for the rest of his natural life, and then some, was a series of armed robberies after he got out on parole in 1988. Over four days, he stuck up a gas station, held up a liquor store and took over a Littleton restaurant, holding a gun on customers and employees while the manager opened the safe.
Arapahoe County prosecutors nailed Klein on aggravated robbery, kidnapping and burglary. They also charged him with being a habitual criminal. He ended up with ten life terms, to be served consecutively. According to the sentencing scheme of the time, that translates into a minimum of forty years without parole on each count -- 400 years total.
No one, not even Klein, could argue that he didn't deserve a hefty sentence. But four centuries for crimes in which no one was shot, stabbed or even slugged? That's the kind of time you reserve for two-legged predators like Quintin Wortham, the late and unlamented Capitol Hill Rapist. "Guys convicted of multiple murders don't get that much time," Klein notes in a recent letter. "The only thing I can hope for now is a considerable change in the laws that would be retroactive."
Klein is 51 now and has already served close to twenty years, or half of the first of his ten life sentences. Older felons are supposed to better parole risks -- but then again, Klein has one conviction since he got to prison, a 2003 beef for "possession of a dangerous instrument," which won't help his chances of clemency sometime down the road. Still, a possible early release at 55 or 60, rather than continuing to house him in a cell until death, could save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and bring his punishment more in line with that of other pistol-packing thieves.