It's been a long, long 25 years since Donny Andrews, barely out of his teens, ended up behind bars for a string of burglaries he embarked upon to support his cocaine habit. But that quarter-century represents less than a third of the sentence heaped on Andrews, one of the harshest punishments of its kind meted out at the height of the lock-'em-up frenzy in the late 1980s.
You heard that right. Andrews is serving 81 years and a day for a series of nonviolent property and drug crimes. His earliest parole date is in 2025 -- a situation his family and supporters desperately want to change.
The 81-year sentence is more time than a homicidal estranged spouse gets for second-degree murder in this state. It's more than your average pedophile would receive for molesting a Cub Scout. It's more than four times the maximum for a fatal hit-and-run. Andrews did none of these things, yet he's seen killers, sex offenders and assorted scumbags walk into prison, do their time and walk out while he still sits there, watching the years tick away.
Timing and location are everything. Andrews managed to commit his burglaries (and one attempted robbery) during a period when hysteria over the war on drugs was at its peak. He had the poor judgment to burgle in places like Arapahoe County, famous for throwing the book at dope fiends (unless they happen to be the former county sheriff; see my explanation from last year on why Andrews is in prison and Pat Sullivan isn't). And he had the bad luck to be an erstwhile associate of Eugene Thompson, a burglar who killed two hostages, shot another and raped a woman before killing himself -- and helped to make Sullivan's rep as a tough lawman in the bargain.
Andrews had no involvement with that rampage, but the fact that he knew Thompson made it easier for prosecutors to push for stiff sentences regarding his burglaries and then call for them to be served consecutively, stacking the routine cases into an amazing 81 years. The sentencing schemes that allowed such a pile-on have since been modified or repealed, but Andrews is still stuck inside -- even though, as pointed out in our 2009 feature "The Quality of Mercy," his early release could save taxpayers around $750,000.
Andrews is no longer an addict. He's no longer a shortsighted twenty year old. His prison record is exemplary. Previously denied clemency -- a special reprieve that a sitting governor can grant to correct sentencing disparities but rarely does -- he's now reapplying, his appeal package stuffed with letters from family and friends urging his release.
Continue for more about the rally this weekend. "During the course of my crime spree, I never physically hurt anyone," Andrews writes in his letter to the clemency board and Governor John Hickenlooper. "I feel that I have served enough time to satisfy the demands for punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, and justice. In fact, 25 years in prison for a first-time offender, who has never killed, raped, or wounded any human being, is a travesty of justice itself.... I ask that my case be looked at and that I am given a second chance."
"He's been in prison for more than half his life," says Kerry Knowe, Donny's sister. "There's no way that releasing him would put anyone at risk. He wants to speak about his experiences and help the community. He wants to do good."
Family members and friends will be holding a rally in support of clemency for Donny Andrews on Sunday, September 8, beginning at 2 p.m. in Clement Park, 7306 West Bowles Avenue in Littleton. Among the speakers will be Andrew Matson, author of Choose to Do Right: A Proven Path to Criminal Rehabilitation. Matson knew Andrews at Columbine High School in the 1980s and also served time on drug and theft convictions -- but he's out now, a successful executive and motivational speaker. And a strong supporter of the release of Donny Andrews.
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"Everyone that I have talked with believes that Donny received harsh and excessive sentences for the crimes he committed," Matson writes in his own letter to Hickenlooper. "All of his crimes were committed to support his addictions to drugs and alcohol -- specifically cocaine. It saddens me to see him still in prison."
Knowe says anyone who wants to show support for Andrews and his clemency bid should head for Shelter Number Five (behind the library) at Clement Park on Sunday, where templates for other letters to the clemency board will be available.
More from our Follow That Story archive from May 2012: "Why Donny Andrews is in prison and Pat Sullivan isn't."