Alan Sudduth learned young that you never snitch -- but now, only the truth can set him free

On the night of April 1, 1995, Alan Sudduth's mother was out, again, leaving the sixteen-year-old and his fourteen-year-old brother alone in their bleak two-bedroom apartment in Aurora. There was a world of ways in which they could get into trouble — and trouble soon knocked on the door.

Nicholas Reed, a kid who lived nearby, stopped by with the suggestion that he invite over a girl he'd met at the Buckingham Square Mall and her friend. A proposition like that would never have flown when Alan was younger and living under the doting care and strict rules of his paternal grandmother and, later, his uncle Reggie. In fact, Reggie had taken Alan to a church concert earlier that evening, and Alan was still wearing some of his best clothes: a dress shirt over black Dickies, clean British Knights. But Alan had been drifting away from that world since he'd moved in with his mother a few years earlier. His dad, lost to alcohol, crack and violence, hadn't been around for years, and his mom wasn't much better. These days, school was optional, while ripping and running the streets, smoking weed and chasing girls were all mandatory. So Alan told Nicholas to give the girls a call.

The two girls, white fifteen-year-olds from the southern suburbs, soon showed up in a car one had snatched from her parents. Alan was usually hyper and goofy — maybe to compensate for his 5' 2" frame, maybe to angle for the attention that came so easily from one side of his family and so rarely from the other — but he kept quiet for a while, unsure of what to do around girls like this. Still, the mood lightened once the boys broke out a deck of cards to play strip poker — as well as a fifth of Hennessy that Alan's mom had left out. Nicholas had also brought over a gun, a chrome 9mm Ruger, and he was flaunting it every chance he got.

Nicholas may have been trying to impress the girls — or he may have wanted to impress Alan. The boys didn't know each other well, but it was no secret that Alan's second cousin on his mother's side was Michael Asberry, founder of the Rollin' 30 Crips, a Denver set that had been spreading across town with a vengeance. Parts of Aurora had erupted into war zones, and gang members were regularly patrolling the 16th Street Mall. Two years earlier, there had been so many high-profile shootings that the period had been dubbed the "Summer of Violence." And Asberry, nicknamed Cyco, was in the middle of it all. He'd hold court at his house, deciding on street business, ruling on violations, doling out punishment. But he sometimes found time for his second cousins, checking to see if they were safe, making sure they knew the code of the streets. Alan's older stepbrother was already a gang member, and Alan and his younger brother seemed well on their way to becoming full-fledged Crips, too.

As the night wore on, the girls said they had to return the car before it was missed. No one was ready for the party to end, though, so they came up with a plan. The four drove to the girls' neighborhood in unincorporated Arapahoe County, dropped off the car and then walked to a nearby Amoco on East Dry Creek Road, where they called a cab to take them back to Alan's apartment.

The Yellow Cab pulled up around 6 a.m. As the foursome climbed in, the driver went into the gas station to see if they could break a twenty-dollar bill. Nicholas, sitting in the front seat, took the opportunity to hand his gun to Alan in the back, since Nicholas didn't have pockets in his Dickies jumpsuit. Alan slipped it into his pocket. Then, as the cab headed north, he dozed off in the back seat, buzzing from the Hennessy.

The boys had already decided that they'd run rather than pay for the cab, and they had the cabbie drop the girls off a block away from the International Apartments. That way, only two of them would have to run, and the girls would meet them back at Alan's place.

Just before dawn, the cab pulled into the parking lot behind the International Apartments.

The girls heard the gunshot as they were walking back to Alan's. At the apartment, they found both boys, breathing hard. The cab driver was dead, they said — and each bragged that he'd been the one to pull the trigger. Alan told one of the girls that he'd shot the driver, while Nicholas got down on his knees and started praying, saying he'd just killed a man. All four acted like they should just carry on — the boys showing off, trying to score, the girls playing along.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner