Off Limits

Last week, the Colorado Supreme Court determined that Jefferson County prosecutor Mark Pautler had broken ethical rules governing a lawyer's conduct when he represented himself as a public defender while talking on the phone to William Cody Neal, the now-convicted ax murderer who killed three women during a grisly spree in July 1998. At the time, Jeffco law-enforcement officials were trying to convince Neal to surrender; he did so after Pautler, as "Mark Palmer," promised to be present at his surrender and make sure Neal got a private cell and some cigarettes.

After receiving complaints from defense attorneys, a Supreme Court disciplinary board investigated, determined that Pautler had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and put him on probation for a year. Pautler appealed, but the Supreme Court upheld the board's action, determining that the lie wasn't justified since Pautler had "several choices" for how he could have handled the situation ethically.

So much for the prosecution.

Meanwhile, an investigator working out of the public defender's office in Golden, which handled Neal's case until he started representing himself, wound up purchasing the townhouse on West Chenango drive where Neal had committed the murders. He cleaned it up, then sold it. Such a piece of real estate is known as a "psychologically impacted property," but there's no rule that a seller has to reveal its sordid history unless a prospective buyer asks for it.

The savvy bit of salesmanship did not go entirely unnoticed, however. At a Colorado Public Defenders conference held in the fall of 1999 -- shortly after a three-judge panel sentenced Neal to death -- investigator Dan Beever was given the "You Did What?" award, and his real estate deal was saluted on the group's Web site.

Tales from the crypt: In this very space back on March 14, we reported that the Denver Newspaper Agency was interested in selling the Rocky Mountain News's historic headquarters building, located at 400 West Colfax Avenue, and had placed an asking price of over $20 million on the property. We also speculated that the location would be perfect for a jail, even though Derek Brown, director of Denver's office of asset management, said he thought the structure might not meet the city's needs.

Nearly two months later, the Denver dailies got around to confirming these items. On May 2, a News article stated that the building was on the block for $22 million -- and the next day's Denver Post included a quote from Manager of Safety Ari Zavaras, who said the city was looking into the practicality of locking up felons in a space long occupied by the people who wrote about them. More recently, in the May 19 News, a representative of Moody's Investors Service, which just downgraded the credit rating of MediaNews Group, owner of the Post, said the DNA's financial picture would be improved if the News property is successfully peddled.

There's no telling when such a sale might happen: DNA spokesman Jim Nolan insists there's nothing new on the real estate front regarding either the Colfax acreage or a future base of operations that the News -- and the DNA, which is housed in the News building -- might eventually share with the Post. And the city, which had hoped to build a new jail at the Sears warehouse site off Sixth Avenue until voters put the kibosh on that last fall, is still investigating its options for a new hoosegow site.

(On this November's ballot, Denver voters may be asked to approve "the issuance of $110 million in bonds to finance a new jail or jails near the current city and county jail" -- and the News building is just a block away from the downtown Denver Police Department complex that holds the current, very crammed city jail. Since that proposal is petitioned under a state statute and not the Denver City Charter, it requires about 8,000 signatures, three times as many as the 2,458 required for each of the other three initiatives now in the works. In addition to a proposal that would establish an office of Transcendental Meditation -- om [see page 13], there are two initiatives involving dueling concert venues: the Paramount Theatre and the soon-to-open CityLights.)

Still, it's not too early to wonder what will happen to some of the News's most precious assets once a new buyer is found. For one thing, Gene Amole Way, a street bordering the News command center that was renamed in December to honor Gene Amole, the columnist who'd revealed two months earlier that he was dying (and passed away two weeks ago), will be hard to fit into a moving truck. Just as potentially problematic is the matter of the two ex-News employees whose remains are interred within the building.

Yes, it's true: The News's lobby serves as a mausoleum for columnist Lee Casey, who died in 1951, and onetime newspaper executive W.H. "Bill" Hailey, who went the way of all flesh in 1965. According to a bio assembled by the Denver Press Club, Casey was not only a beloved scribe, but also a notable character who some believe inspired the protagonist in Harvey, the play by Denver author Mary Chase (which later became a movie starring James Stewart) about a man whose best pal is an invisible six-foot rabbit. (Note to our friends at PETA: So far as anyone remembers, there are no giant rabbit remains entombed at the News.)

Hailey was the News's business manager from 1941 to 1957 and is credited by historian Robert L. Perkin with spurring the paper's switch from a broadsheet to a tabloid in the early 1940s. If Hailey spun in his grave when the News reversed direction last year and went from a tabloid design to a broadsheet on Saturdays, today's Rocky employees were probably close enough to feel it.

Nolan says any discussion about what will become of Casey and Hailey -- or at least what's left of them -- is premature. "If and when the building is ever sold," he adds, "we would certainly do everything to honor the wishes of the families and the memory of these two individuals."

So much for the News's longtime home being their final resting place...

But with a certain permanence, we can lay to rest the rumor that the late News columnist John Coit is also holed up in the News's lobby; his remains reside in Arlington, Virginia. But Coit did get married in the lobby in the mid-'80s, shortly -- very shortly -- before his sudden death, with Casey and Hailey as unofficial witnesses.

Lights...cameras...graduate: Some Columbine High School seniors and their families may have a been a little surprised to find a TV camera and a handful of reporters at their graduation ceremony at Fiddler's Green Amphitheater on Saturday, May 18, especially since the senior class -- the last group of students who were at Columbine during the April 1999 massacre -- had voted only a few weeks earlier not to allow the media into the event.

In fact, the Jefferson County School District had gone so far as to issue this advisory on May 9: "At the request of the senior class and their families, Columbine High School graduation ceremonies...will be closed to the media. The graduation ceremony is a ticketed event, and any persons without a ticket will not be allowed to enter the amphitheater. Security will be on hand to ensure persons without tickets are not permitted onto the grounds."

But that was before the district found out that Columbine's administration had already promised NBC that it could have access to the ceremony for a story that the national news network was developing on about-to-graduate Craig Scott, whose sister Rachel was killed at the school. According to spokeswoman Marilyn Salzman, the district solved the sticky situation by agreeing to allow NBC into Fiddler's if the news outlet would share footage with other networks. In addition, the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, the Associated Press and the Columbine Courier were each allowed to send one reporter and one photographer. "We felt that that was a way to be respectful and still meet the needs of the media," Salzman says. "We asked them not to do interviews during the graduation or to wander around."

The News took this request to heart: No one from the paper even showed up to cover the ceremony. But that decision was made more for technical reasons than philosophical ones. "Two things played into it," says News education editor Eric Brown. "The biggest was that it was on a Saturday, and we don't publish on Sunday. Since the Post would have covered it, it wouldn't do us much good to write about it on Monday." Instead, the News ran a story from the Associated Press on its Web site on Sunday.

And while the News did run a collection of graduation stories about other schools in its Monday edition, Brown points out that a package the newspaper put together last month -- just before the third anniversary of the slayings -- "pretty much addressed this being the last class going through Columbine."

So much for pomp and circumstances.


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