Randy Ankeney was once a rising star in the Colorado Republican party, only to become a pariah after being found guilty of numerous sex crimes. However, he now has the opportunity to impact the state in a completely different way. A complaint he brought about alleged prisoner-release violations by the Colorado Department of Corrections is headed to the state supreme court, and if it's successful, his attorney, David Lane, says it could result in potentially thousands of inmates who've been incarcerated too long being freed. Details, more photos and original documents below.
The case is exceedingly complex, but Lane, who just spoke to us about the lawsuit he filed on behalf of Clayton Lockett, the Oklahoma killer whose execution was horribly botched earlier this year, sees its possible impact as simple. In his words, "The State of Colorado will immediately have to parole thousands of inmates if we win."
Ankeney, who was trained as a lawyer, has already won related cases at lower court levels -- a contrast to the court appearances that led to his incarceration.
A 2006 Colorado Independent piece details his fall. Described by the site as a "prominent onetime appointee in former Governor Bill Owens' administration who was being groomed as a future GOP leader in Colorado," Ankeney made the wrong kind of headlines in 2001, when he was arrested on suspicion of "picking up a thirteen-year old girl he had met on the Internet, taking her to his home, getting her drunk and stoned on marijuana, taking topless photos of her and trying to coerce her into having sex with him."
Five years later, Ankeney got into trouble again, this time in regard to a twenty-year-old woman. The Independent notes that he was " originally slapped with three felony sex offenses and two misdemeanor charges, ranging from sexual assault to false imprisonment." According to the opening brief to the Colorado Supreme Court (one of three documents shared here), the cumulative cases resulted in convictions for child abuse -- negligently cause serious bodily injury, plus third-degree sexual assault and stalking -- emotional distress.
For these crimes, Ankeney was sentenced to a total of eight years, with the possibility of parole after considerably less time -- and when that parole should have kicked in is the crux of the Supreme Court case.
"Envision a sentence as a timeline," Lane says, "with your first day of incarceration on the left and the inmate serving time from left to right. The first significant date is the parole eligibility date. That's determined by statute as 50 percent of the sentence" -- in Ankeney's case, four years -- "if you've been behaving yourself. And the other significant date is the mandatory release date, when they can't hold you any longer -- they have to parole you. And good behavior should make that timeline move back from right to left."
Other credits can reduce sentences even further. If, for example, "someone's got a job in the prison," Lane says, "he can get another ten days a month off his parole eligibility date," and educational earned time can knock off an additional five days per month -- although the parole board has discretion about how it applies both of these credits.
There are fewer choices in regard to so-called earned time for good behavior. Although Ankeney's accumulated credits meant he could have been released after just three years, Lane says, "once he hit that four-year mark, he had to be paroled, because he had all his credits. If you read the law, it says this is mandatory: If you're behaving yourself, you shall be given a good-time credit per month."
However, Lane argues that the DOC "is refusing to use good time to calculate your mandatory release date." As a result, "they said Ankeney's mandatory release date wouldn't hit until he'd served six years and change."
In response, Lane goes on, "Ankeney called bullshit and filed his own case in district court."
He lost his first attempt "because the parole statutes are massively complicated and confusing," Lane points out. "But then he took his own appeal to the Court of Appeals and won."
This victory meant Ankeney was immediately released from prison and placed on parole -- but because "this was an unpublished opinion by the Court of Appeals, it has no precedential value on other cases," Lane says. "If anybody else tried using this decision to get out, the district court wouldn't allow it." But when Ankeney won a second case, over his contention that he'd already served his parole time in prison because he was kept beyond his proper release date, "the State of Colorado took a direct appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court."
Briefs have been filed in the case and the state supreme court has set a hearing date for December 9. And while the matter may strike some as purely technical in nature, the impact could be "gigantic," in Lane's view.
"The significance of this case is that the best behaved inmates at DOC are getting generally ten days a month taken off their sentences, as opposed to the thirty days per month that they should be getting," he says. "So if we win, the state will have to immediately parole literally thousands of inmates."
Such a prospect might unsettle the public -- but in Lane's view, "the real reason they should panic is because thousands of inmates are being held beyond their mandatory release dates. And what kind of out-of-control government do we have that holds thousands of inmates beyond their mandatory release dates? The people of Colorado should be panicking over that. If you're in favor of holding inmates beyond their mandatory release dates, you should probably move to North Korea or China, as opposed to a country that allegedly says, 'Once you've served your sentence, you should be released from prison.'"
Other repercussions are possible, too -- and they're financial in nature.
"Once the Court of Appeals decision came down, I filed a lawsuit in federal district court," Lane notes. "I got Ankeney and three or four other inmates who are still incarcerated, and they're saying, 'You owe us damages for keeping us beyond our mandatory release dates.' So we're seeking relief and asking the federal court to order the DOC to immediately recalculate everyone's mandatory release date," with those who fall within a two-year statute of limitations on civil-rights claims looking at a potential payday.
This suit is being held in abeyance pending a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court -- "but if the court rules in our favor," Lane says, "that will be quite a chunk of Colorado change."
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