Bull's Eyeful

He had the camera, the studio and the guns. She had the tribal tattoos, the icy blue eyes and the desire. They met on the Internet in May 2000 in a chat room for Colorado singles. They volleyed flirtatious notes. She told him her name was Katica, pronounced "Kah-tee-kah." It's Hungarian, she said.

She was 34 then, and she was hot -- if you like biker chicks, which he did. She sent him pictures. She was 5'8", 125 pounds. She came across in her e-mails as tough, yet vulnerable. She let him know she was fresh out of prison, where she'd just served two years for selling a tiny bag of speed to an undercover cop. She was on ISP, Intensive Supervised Program, and so had a plastic electronic monitoring bracelet around her ankle like a virtual ball and chain. She was broke and living with her ex-husband in Colorado Springs. She had reclaimed her maiden name and was Katica Crippen once more. She had an eight-year-old daughter and a felony record, and she was looking to make a fresh start.

He lived in Englewood. He went to see her a few times, and even though she wasn't allowed to drive under the terms of her ISP, he loaned her a car, and she came to see him a few times. They were talking one day, and the conversation turned to guns. He told her he had quite a collection. She told him guns made her feel naughty. "She said she thought it would be really good to take some pictures of her naked with my guns," he says.

He was all for it.

"When a good-looking lady says, 'Take my pictures nude while I handle your guns,' what are you gonna do, say no? Come on. I took the pictures," says the now 38-year-old photographer, who spoke with Westword on the condition that his name not be used. "You bet I did. But then, I had no idea it was in any way illegal. If I'd known that taking those photos would have caused her or I this many problems, I would have said no."

The day of the photo shoot, Crippen arrived at his apartment wearing fringed black leather pants and a matching jacket, with a black lace, spider-web-patterned bodysuit beneath, and contact lenses that turned her eyes the color of a glacier under the midnight sun.

He got out his guns and his camera, and the shutter began to click. They started out with her fully clothed, holding two gleaming .45s with the hammers cocked and her fingers on the triggers. (The clips were empty; all the guns were unloaded.) She stripped down to the bodysuit, and he handed her a .44 magnum and then a .357.

Then she got naked. He positioned her sitting down with her back against the wall, her jacket splayed in front of her, covering her crotch, with a pile of weaponry nestled within the leather folds. Then he removed the jacket. She spread her legs and crossed twin semi-automatics across her breasts, lowering her eyelids and faking a moan, as if the very sensation of gun steel pressed against her nipples had propelled her to orgasm.

"It was just supposed to be fun," Crippen says. "That's all. Just some fun between friends."

In the United States, it's not a crime to simultaneously invoke your First and Second Amendment rights by posing naked with a gun in your hand.

But it is a crime in this country for a convicted felon to possess a firearm.

And when federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver found out about Crippen's photo shoot, they rescinded her parole and charged with her a federal firearms offense.

She went back to prison in April 2001 to serve the remainder of the original four-year state sentence for her drug crime. In addition, she now has to do eighteen months in a federal pen for being a felon in possession of a firearm. When she finally gets out this time around, Crippen will have been incarcerated for over three years -- at a cost of over $100,000 -- simply because she held a friend's guns while he snapped her photograph.

"I still have no idea why I'm back in prison for a bunch of years for posing with guns that weren't even mine," she says. "I still have no idea why doing that was a crime, and I still have no idea why what I did was so wrong that they took me away from my daughter."

Crippen's bizarre legal ordeal has transformed her into a minor celebrity, a pinup girl in the raging debate over gun control. Her case is featured on hundreds of pro-gun and weird-news Web sites; biker and gun magazines have printed her prison address and suggested that readers send her fan mail. Last summer, nationally syndicated conservative columnist Paul Craig Roberts penned a scathing critique of her prosecution that was printed in daily newspapers across the country. And in 2002, the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, released a massive study on the "over-enforcement of gun laws" that used Crippen's case as a prime example of "the proliferation of 'garbage' gun charges -- technical violations of firearms statutes on which no sensible prosecutor would expend his energy."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse