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Jack's Back

In 1993, Lisa Lane, an assistant district attorney in Grand County, prosecuted a drunk-driving case against an occasional local named Jack Irving Ainsworth. Late on July 4, 1992, Ainsworth had been riding his motorcycle in an isolated location outside of Grand Lake; on the back sat a young woman he'd picked up in town. They crashed--no one was seriously injured--and Ainsworth was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

The case, a boilerplate drunk-driving arrest, was not unusual. Yet something stood out about Ainsworth. "I don't dislike all defendants--don't get me wrong," explains Lane. "But I sure didn't like him. He was really a slick kind of guy; he just gave me a bad feeling."

Perhaps it was because by then Ainsworth already had introduced himself to the local DA's office, which had prosecuted him for a 1985 burglary in Grand Lake. Or it could have been Ainsworth's long rap sheet, which goes back to 1968--and includes a conviction for felony sexual assault.

In 1973 Ainsworth was convicted of breaking into a Denver apartment and raping the two women there. He received an open-ended sentence known as "day-to-life," which gives the state Department of Corrections discretion over a sex-crimes offender's release from prison. Although no one knew for sure when Ainsworth would walk, his potentially lengthy stay behind bars came as good news to Denver-area cops. At the time of his January 1973 arrest, they suspected Ainsworth of more than sixty other rapes and attempted rapes in the metro area.

Ainsworth was released from the state psychiatric hospital in 1983, after spending ten years behind bars. Getting caught committing a new crime--the 1985 Grand County break-in--took him less than two years.

One of the supposed advantages of the day-to-life sentence is that even after a convict is released, he is still technically on parole from a life sentence for at least five years, and, frequently, for the rest of his life. That permits the state to keep a close eye on former sex offenders, who have a particularly high recidivism rate. In theory, this means that if a person like Jack Ainsworth is released on parole but continues to commit crimes, the state can lock him back up based on the old conviction.

But it didn't work out that way when the state parole board petitioned a local judge to pull Ainsworth back into custody after the 1985 Grand County burglary. Running counter to the intention of the day-to-life sentence, the judge decided Ainsworth could not be returned to prison on his 1973 rape sentence. Local prosecutors appealed the case but lost again.

Jack Ainsworth's good luck in court ten years ago is relevant now, because on June 26 he was arrested again. Early that morning, he allegedly broke into a Boulder woman's apartment, covered her head with a pillowcase and raped her.

Assistant DA Lane says she heard about the arrest from a state trooper who had assisted in Ainsworth's 1992 Grand County drunk-driving collar. "We all knew he'd be back," she says.

She adds that she found herself remembering Ainsworth's twenty-year-old passenger on the night of July 4, 1992. "It made me think," says Lane, "how lucky that woman was only to be injured in a motorcycle accident."

In 1968, when he was twenty, Jack Ainsworth was arrested in Fort Collins and charged with theft. By the end of that year he'd been busted again, this time in Jefferson County on a car prowl.

Ainsworth was next arrested in February 1970, in Las Vegas, on charges of burglary and vagrancy. The following month the Las Vegas police picked him up again, and he was charged with burglary. A month after that the Denver police arrested him for theft. Two months later he was arrested again by the Las Vegas police, again for burglary, and again in August, on another burglary charge.

In June 1971 Ainsworth was busted in Jefferson County a second time and charged with burglary. Five months later the Las Vegas cops hauled him in for prowling.

Nine months after that, in August 1972, Ainsworth was arrested in Denver and charged with reckless driving and eluding police. A week later he was pulled in again by Denver cops for burglary.

It was five months later, in January 1973, that Ainsworth was arrested for the burglary and rape of the two Denver women. On June 11, 1973, he was sentenced to one day to life in the Colorado Psychiatric Hospital.

After three years in the state hospital, he was moved to a state penitentiary, where he stayed until 1977. Then he returned to the psychiatric hospital, where he stayed until he was paroled from Department of Corrections custody on July 15, 1983.

The thing that stands out most about Jack Ainsworth's recent criminal history is that, while he has never presented much of a challenge to catch, time after time he has proved elusive in court. "It would appear," says Grand County District Attorney Paul McLimans, "that Mr. Ainsworth has been pretty successful at reducing the consequences that confronted him."

Ainsworth has a particularly strong record of that in Grand County. His most consequential dodge began on July 7, 1985, just two years after his release from the state psychiatric hospital.

When he was arrested that night for breaking into a house in Grand Lake, Ainsworth told Grand County sheriff's deputies that he'd been shooting up cocaine and dropping acid, which could explain why he stole only the owner's cowboy hat, a pair of slippers and a down vest.

Ainsworth had been surprised by the owner and had run out of the house. Using a dog, sheriff's deputies had tracked him to a nearby woodpile, where he refused to come out. Suddenly, he bolted from the pile. He was quickly taken down by the police dog.

In April 1986 Ainsworth agreed to plead guilty to first-degree criminal trespassing, and on June 5 he was sentenced to four years and a day in prison, with credit for the forty days he'd already served since he'd pled guilty to the break-in.

Once in prison, though, Ainsworth apparently rethought his guilty plea. Through a Canon City lawyer, he soon claimed that his first attorney had not done a good enough job representing him. Specifically, Ainsworth argued that the lawyer never told him his 1973 sexual assault conviction in Denver and his subsequent day-to-life sentence could come back to haunt him if he was arrested again.

When it was introduced under the then-new Colorado Sex Offenders Act in 1968, the day-to-life sentence was considered a major step in incarcerating sexual offenders. Recognizing that such criminals respond differently to treatment--and some not at all--the sentence gave the state parole board complete discretion over when a prisoner was ready to leave prison. As the name of the sentence suggested, that could be as soon as after one day served; or, at the other extreme, an unrepentant offender who was unresponsive to treatment could remain in prison for life.

Once an offender was released, he was technically on parole; if he committed another crime, that could reactivate the "day-to-life" sentence, and he could be reincarcerated. This component formed the basis of Ainsworth's Grand County burglary appeal--he claimed his lawyer never told him the parole board could pull him back into prison.

The parole board already was thinking along the same lines. As Ainsworth had feared, the state board requested that his day-to-life parole be revoked because of the Grand County burglary and that he be locked back up in prison.

But in August 1988 a Denver district court judge disagreed. Saying that Ainsworth already had done his time on the 1973 rape, the judge ruled that he could not be rearrested on the sex assault. The Denver District Attorney's office appealed that decision to the next level, but the Colorado Court of Appeals never heard the case, and the DA's office dropped the matter.

Ainsworth won again in May 1989, when Grand County District Court Judge Richard Doucette reached a decision on Ainsworth's appeal of his burglary conviction.

Doucette ruled that since Ainsworth's lawyer hadn't told him he could have his parole revoked under the old day-to-life sentence, his legal representation on the Grand County charges had been inadequate--even though only nine months earlier, a Denver judge had concluded that Ainsworth, in fact, could not have his parole revoked under the day-to-life sentence. Despite the contradiction, Doucette ordered that Ainsworth's guilty plea to the 1985 break-in be erased.

A retrial was set for October 1989. But on July 26 Ainsworth again pled guilty, this time to a charge of attempted trespass. He was sentenced to three years in prison, given credit for time served, and walked out the door a free man.

He was arrested again three years later for the motorcycle incident outside Grand Lake. But his luck held. When Ainsworth went on trial for that charge in March 1993, the jury found him guilty of driving with ability impaired and careless driving. Yet Ainsworth was able to successfully appeal the conviction, contending that the district attorney had given improper instructions to the jury and that a jury member had violated the nurse/patient confidentiality code.

And then Jack Ainsworth disappeared.
According to Boulder police records, the first call came at 6:50 a.m. on June 26, 1996. Officers responded to an apartment complex on a report that a resident had heard an altercation and a woman screaming. When they couldn't find the woman, they left. Forty minutes later the police were called again, this time by the victim.

The woman said she'd woken up at about 6:15 a.m. to find a hooded man with a knife inside her apartment. He'd covered her head with a pillowcase and raped her. During a subsequent struggle, in which the woman eventually escaped, the man bit her and hit her with a hammer.

At some point during the fight, the woman was able to take away the man's knife. She cut him several times with it before she escaped to a neighbor's apartment and called the police.

Ainsworth, who was arrested inside the victim's home, told police he'd been using drugs. He also said that he hadn't done anything like this for a long time. He gave no permanent address, telling people he was basically homeless and had been living out of his car. The following day Ainsworth was charged with several counts of first-degree sexual assault, as well as other assault and burglary charges.

For Lisa Lane, the real crime is that Jack Ainsworth was out on the street in the first place. "He had a life sentence," she says. "I mean, what the hell is a life sentence?