Evan Ebel's feces-smeared prison records and straw-purchase controversy
Update: Evan Ebel is dead, but the investigation into his suspected murder of pizza-delivery man Nathan Leon and Colorado Department of Corrections boss Tom Clements goes on, and it's making more ripples nationally than at any point since the news broke. As the Colorado Department of Corrections released his prison records -- see them and get startling details below -- the arrest of a woman accused of buying the Clements murder weapon for him casts new light on federal legislation about straw purchases.
First, the prison records. According to a DOC document on view below in its entirety, Ebel was first imprisoned on February 11, 2005 thanks to a three-year sentence, to have been followed by a two-year mandatory parole period, for robbery and menacing in Jefferson County. That June, he received an additional eight years on an assault charge in Adams County, which was to have run concurrently with the Jeffco jolt -- and in 2007, he was handed an additional four years for an assault on a correctional officer in Fremont County.
An early Ebel mug shot.
In all, Ebel served seven years, eleven months and 24 days in prison prior to his release on January 28 of this year -- fewer than two months before he's thought to have killed Leon and dumped his body in an open-space area near a Golden recycling center before shooting Clements in the chest at the front door of his Monument home and fleeing. His run ended on March 21, when he shot a Texas deputy before leading a car chase that ended with his 1991 Cadillac crushed by a semi and a law-enforcement bullet in his head.
During his stay in stir, Ebel racked up 28 penal code violations, including three cases for threats, ten for what's called "advocating facility disruption," two for verbal abuse, four for disobeying a lawful order, three for assault, another pair for damage to state property, and one apiece of "unauthorized possession" and "inappropriate conduct."
This potpourri of offenses is spelled out in separate reports filed contemporaneously. Some examples:
• "Ebel was told to back out of his cell. He turned toward staff and said, 'Or what?' He was given directives to slow down and not pull away. He did not comply with directives."
• "Staff were shaking down [Ebel's] cell. [Ebel] became upset that staff had taken breakfast and said that staff had better leave cuffs on next time or he would assault staff."
• "Offender was walking from shower when staff opened [deleted] cell. Staff looked away, Ebel put his stuff on the ground and ran into [deleted] cell, where he assaulted [deleted]."
• "Offender covered up window, refused to uncover window... OC Spray used. Resisted."
• "Offender verbally threatened staff with bodily injury...."
• "Offender fighting with other offender, struck offender with closed fists."
• "Offender in possession of 33 feet of string with weight and piece of metal in offender's shoes after being searched before going into exercise room."
• "Hit staff in face, cut to nose and finger. Subject slipped out of handcuffs...threatened to kill staff member."
• "Told C/O [deleted] that he would kill her if he ever saw her on the streets and that he would make her beg for her life."
• "Put feces of the cell door of another inmate...." (He repeated this tactic several times.)
• "Kicked his cell door, yelling and encouraged other inmates to do the same."
• "Engaged in a physical altercation with an exchange of blows."
A mug showing Ebel with a mustache.
As a result of this behavior, Ebel spent much of his stretch in solitary confinement. But he apparently got around the rest of the populace often enough to become a member of the 211s, a white-supremacist prison gang that may or may not have played a role in his targeting of Clements. A possible reason floated by one source: Prison officials transferred assorted 211 crew members in an effort to dilute the strength of the organization.
Meanwhile, on the evening of March 27, agents with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, working in concert with the El Paso Sheriff's Office, arrested Commerce City's Stevie Marie Vigil, 22, for allegedly purchasing the gun used in Clements's murder and giving it to Ebel. An excerpt from the CBI release:
Oftentimes referred to as a 'straw purchase' investigators believe Vigil purchased the firearm from a licensed firearms dealer in Englewood, and allegedly transferred the weapon to Evan Ebel, a convicted felon who could not legally possess a firearm. The licensed firearms dealer has been extremely cooperative with investigators, and had no knowledge of Vigil's alleged actions following her legal purchase of the gun.
Vigil's initial court appearance yesterday earned news coverage from national organizations such as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show -- unusual for a relatively minor offense. (Vigil faces a single unlawful-purchase-of-a-firearm count, a class-4 felony that carries a potential penalty of between two and sixteen years in prison and fines from $500 to $2,000.) But that's because she's a poster child for the straw-purchase issue.
As Maddow noted, one element of President Barack Obama's gun-control package is language that would make straw purchases a federal felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor, and while all the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted for it, only a single Republican, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, did likewise. This lack of bipartisan support suggests that this measure, like so many others, will have a tough time becoming law.
Look below to see the Maddow report, which also touches on the release of a new document in the Sandy Hook massacre, followed by Vigil's mug shot, Ebel's incarceration records and our previous coverage.
Stevie Marie Vigil.
Update, 5:58 a.m. March 27: The investigation into Evan Ebel, who's thought to have murdered pizza-delivery man Nathan Leon and Colorado Department of Corrections boss Tom Clements, has delved into speculation; look below to see our previous coverage about possible motivation provided by his reported membership in a white supremacist prison gang.
Now, however, we're learning more about physical evidence from his car, including bomb-making equipment and letters from someone named "Nate."
This last discovery is one particularly fitted to fuel conspiracy theories, since Leon was known by his friends and loved ones by that name. However, there's been no suggestion from anyone that Leon was anything other than an innocent victim of a senseless crime that may have been committed simply so that Ebel could obtain a Domino's jacket with which he could convince Clements to open the door of his home in Monument last week -- after which he was immediately shot in the chest.
Thus far, officials in Texas, where Ebel was shot to death by law enforcers after opening fire on a deputy and leading officers on a wild car chase, have not talked about clues that specifically tie the troubled son of Jack Ebel, Governor John Hickenlooper's longtime friend, to the Leon murder -- and that's true of Colorado authorities as well. But we know there are links between a gun used in the shootout with Texas officers and the Clements killing from this statement from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office:
The Colorado Springs Metro Crime Lab has completed the analysis of shell casings collected in Texas by El Paso County Sheriff's Office investigators. The analysis done by ballistics experts has concluded the gun used by Evan Ebel in Texas was the same weapon used in the shooting death of Tom Clements. The confirmation goes well beyond acknowledging the same caliber and brand of ammunition being used, but rather is based on unique, and often microscopic markings left on the casings at both scenes.
Other items found in the car, and cataloged in a Texas document referenced by CBS4 are equally intriguing. They include what's described as bomb-making equipment, black powder, surveillance cameras, a digital voice recorder and, in a black backpack containing some paperwork, including the aforementioned letters, handwritten directions and Department of Corrections documents.
The latter could be something as simple as discharge releases. But the mere fact that Ebel had such docs after apparently slaying Clements certainly raises more questions.
Presumably the answers will continue to accrue as the days more forward. In the meantime, here's a larger look at a 2003 mug shot of Ebel and the latest CBS4 report, followed by part of our previous coverage.
Original post, 5:59 a.m. March 25: Investigators continue trying to tie Evan Ebel, who was gunned down in a Texas shootout, to the slayings of pizza-delivery man Nathan Leon and Department of Corrections executive director Tom Clements -- and so does the press.
Now, however, officials are going after one media outlet, the Denver Post, for theorizing that shifts involving jailed members of the 211 prison gang may have provided a motive for Clements's assassination.
As we've reported, Leon, who worked at a Domino's Pizza branch near East 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, was sent on a delivery over the weekend, but never returned. His body was found in an open-space area near a Golden recycling plant. The Denver coroner's office has established that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.
Nathan Leon and his wife, Katie.
At about 8:30 p.m. the following Tuesday in Monument, a town many miles south of where Leon was slain, a seemingly unconnected act of senseless violence took place. Clements, who was appointed to head the state's prisons in 2011 and was widely regarded as a reformer, answered the door and was shot in the chest.
Two days after Clements was killed, authorities in Texas plugged Ebel after he'd opened fire on a deputy, prompting a wild car chase that ended with his 1991 Cadillac being partly crushed by a semi; Ebel died the next day after his organs were harvested.
Soon thereafter, reports surfaced about Ebel being part of a white-supremacist prison gang called the 211s.
In our earlier coverage, we cited a 2009 Associated Press report posted on the White Prison Gangs blogspot, in which experts compared the 211s to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. Alleged members included Nathan Thill, who murdered African immigrant Oumar Dia in 1997; Thill is thought to have been pals with Jeremiah Barnum, who went down in a blaze of bullets at a Denver Walgreens in February 2012.
An excerpt from the AP article suggests that 211 ties aren't broken by release from prison:
To join the gang, inmates were required to attack someone, Lopez said, and if released from prison, they were required to send money to members still behind bars. Members outside prison sometimes were required to intimidate witnesses in cases against other members, and they could be targeted for violence themselves if they refused or failed to raise money, Lopez said.
Members most often raised money through gun and drug trafficking and communicated through coded letters and telephone calls.
Building on information like this, the Post quoted an anonymous Department of Corrections source as saying that a month before Clements was killed, prison officials had "moved a core group of white supremacist leaders held at Sterling Correctional Complex to Buena Vista Correctional Center, diluting their numbers and strength."
On the surface, such an action might have provided a reason for the 211s to reach out to onetime inductees on the outside, such as Ebel, with the idea of slaying Clements as punishment. But the Department of Corrections immediately attacked that theory.
A statement from Department of Corrections spokesperson Alison Morgan shared by 9News not only faulted the Post by name for its reporting, but even questioned its assertion that the person who revealed details about 211 relocations was a member of the DOC:
No one from the DOC would comment on the shuffling of specific inmates or groups of inmates at CDOC because it would endanger our staff and inmates. That being said, inmates are shuffled through our prison system constantly for a myriad of reasons -- classification (behavior) progressing or regressing, program needs, security needs, etc. As evidence to this point, 25 person of our inmate population is shuffled over the course of a year. It is irresponsible for the Denver Post to issue the report regarding our tactics of shuffling the 211 security threat in an effort to jar their organization.
More comments undercutting the prisoner-shift hypothesis were offered to the station by Terrance Roberts, an ex-prisoner and former Westword profile subject who founded the anti-gang initiative Prodigal Son. "They break up bible study groups in prisons," he told the station. "I had a bible study group in Fremont and they sent me to another prison. If you're in prison you can expect to do 20 years at one particular prison or you can do a two-year sentence and be at four different penitentiaries."
This debate is put into context by the memorial service for Clements, scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. this morning at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Governor John Hickenlooper, who appointed Clements to head the state's prisons in 2011 and, by a strange coincidence, has known Jack Ebel, father of Evan Ebel, for thirty years, dating back to his days in the mining industry, is expected to attend. Late Friday, Hickenlooper released the following statement about his acquaintance with the older Ebel:
"Every killer has a mother and father, usually with broken hearts. I met Jack Ebel some 30 years ago when working for an oil company soon after moving to Colorado. Jack is one of the most kind and generous people I know. His son had a bad streak that I know he tried desperately to correct.
"Although Jack loved his son, he never asked me to intervene on his behalf and I never asked for any special treatment for his son. Based on information we received today, we understand that Evan Ebel served every day of his original sentence and was released on mandatory parole at the end of the time he was ordered to be incarcerated.
"The events of the past few days have been devastating for all involved. I am in shock and disbelief about how everything seems connected in this case. It makes no sense. Tom's death at the hands of someone hell-bent on causing evil was tragic in every way. It also now appears Tom's killer may have had another victim. Our hearts and prayers are with Nathan Leon's family as well. We are most appreciative for law enforcement at all levels in Colorado and Texas and are anxious to learn more as the investigation continues."
Look below to see a 9News report about the 211 theory and subsequent backlash.
More from our Mile High Murder archive: "Evan Ebel: John Hickenlooper knew dad of alleged Tom Clements-Nathan Leon killer."
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