Longform

Clemency for these six prisoners could save millions and serve justice -- so why won't Governor Ritter try it?

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The harsh sentencing scheme turned Andrews's handful of minor felonies into major time, culminating in the residential burglary case he took to trial in Arapahoe County. His attorney stipulated that evidence of a break-in would be sufficient to prove intent to burgle — a strategy to keep out other evidence, but one a criminal defense expert would later blast as "tantamount to a confession of guilt." Although nothing was taken in the break-in, Andrews got thirty years for a busted window, on top of the half-century from other cases.

A new charge followed Andrews behind bars in 1990: sneaking marijuana into the Denver County Jail. But he maintains that he's been clean for the last two decades. "The only drug treatment I got was a three-month drug and alcohol class, but I haven't used drugs in many years," he says. "I know I would never commit another crime. I got no habit to support."

Over the past twenty years, he's seen violent gangbangers and sex offenders come and go in the system while he's doing his mountain of time. He's seen the mandatory sentence schemes of the 1980s modified or repealed. If he makes it to his discharge date, he'll be 98 years old. But he still has hope.

"Many guys like me are broken down and tired of serving time," he says. "Start a program to give guys like me a second chance. I want to give back to society instead of costing taxpayers more money for me to sit around in a cell wasting space."

Estimated savings if released: $776,493


TAMI RICHARDS

Age: 36

Convicted of: Child abuse resulting in death

Sentence: 32 years

Mandatory Release Date: July 26, 2027

Tami Richards describes her younger self as a "naive, selfish, judgmental girl." The selfishness was on overdrive one winter night in 1998, when the 24-year-old mother left her two children alone in a Westminster apartment while she went drinking at a bar for three hours — her response to receiving divorce papers from her husband that day.

She'd heated some leftover spaghetti for the kids' dinner, but three-year-old Brian wanted pigs in a blanket. He started a fire in a pile of clothes, apparently in an effort to cook a package of crescent rolls. Richards arrived home to find the apartment full of smoke. Brian was in her bedroom; eighteen-month-old Cheyenne was on the floor of her own room, where she'd covered herself with stuffed animals. Both children died of smoke inhalation.

At first Richards told police she'd been gone only a few minutes. After flunking two polygraphs, she confessed and pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death.

Now ten years into her 32-year sentence, Richards recently prepared a letter to Governor Ritter as part of a clemency application. "Because of my stupidity and selfishness my beautiful babies lost their lives," she wrote. "I have to live with that knowledge for the rest of my life. Every day that goes by without them in my life and in my arms is torture."

Richards has no prior criminal record. In prison she's taken a wide range of programs and classes, dealing with everything from parenting to digital photography. Working with dogs in the Department of Corrections' K-9 Training Program prompted her to complete a veterinary-assistant correspondent course. She's been free of disciplinary write-ups for years and doesn't appear to pose a risk to public safety.

Richards showed off her computer skills in her letter to the governor, a colorful, homey, Photoshopped brochure. The letter was intercepted by prison staff because they believed it gave her an unfair advantage over other inmates' clemency applications. A more conventional letter has since been submitted and is awaiting action by the adult clemency board.

Estimated savings if released: $517,662


KRYSTAL VOSS

Age: 35

Convicted of: Child abuse resulting in death

Sentence: 20 years

Mandatory Release Date: March 1, 2023

Like Tami Richards, Krystal Voss has already served close to a third of her sentence for causing the death of her own offspring. But in Voss's case, there are troubling questions about the justice process and whether an innocent, grieving mother was convicted of a crime she didn't commit.

In 2003, Voss took her nineteen-month-old son, Kyran, to an Alamosa emergency room. The boy had multiple bruises and a subdural hematoma, often found in cases of shaken babies. Suspicion initially fell on Patrick Ramirez, Krystal's ex-lover, who claimed that Kyran fell and hit his head while Ramirez was babysitting.

But the boy's injuries didn't match the story. Ramirez changed his account in subsequent interviews, finally claiming that Voss had shaken the toddler and persuaded Ramirez to say that he fell. Police then obtained an untaped "confession" from a sleep-deprived Voss, admitting that she'd briefly shaken a fussy Kyran the night before. Voss was arrested, and Ramirez became the key witness against her after Kyran died from his head injury.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast