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

Page 4 of 6

Yet both Kyran's father and grandfather say the child was behaving normally hours after Voss supposedly shook him — and shortly before he was left in the care of Ramirez. Their accounts clash with the testimony of the prosecution's "shaken baby syndrome" expert, who insisted that the symptoms of Kyran's injury would have been immediate and alarming. At the close of the trial, the prosecution abruptly changed its theory of the crime in an attempt to reconcile the conflicting evidence. Voss was convicted of child abuse. A Westword interview with one juror suggests that the panel may have misunderstood the expert testimony ("Shades of Guilt," November 25, 2004).

In 2007 the Colorado Court of Appeals found that Voss's trial was marred by judicial errors and improper conduct by the prosecution, but declined to order a new trial. The Colorado Supreme Court refused to review that decision. Despite growing controversy over the science behind shaken-baby prosecutions, Voss continues to serve time for a crime that her family and friends say she couldn't have committed, a crime so puzzling and motiveless that even the prosecutor can't credibly explain it. She's now seeking post-conviction relief, claiming that her own attorney was ineffective.

Aside from one scolding over a messy desk, Voss has the spotless record of a model prisoner. Guilty or not, women in her situation are among the least likely to commit more crimes. She has tutored other inmates in their GED studies and writes letters frequently to supporters denouncing the wastefulness of the prison system.

"How about actually investigating a case (such as my own) prior to trying to slap a lifetime of incarceration on someone?" she asks in a recent missive. "The state has paid for all my legal proceedings, as well as [those of] thousands of other litigants who refuse to give up."

Estimated savings if released: $373,867


Age: 32

Convicted of: Murder

Sentence: Life without parole

Shortly after his fifteenth birthday, Jacob Ind hired an older teen with reputed ninja skills to kill his mother and stepfather, Pamela and Kermode Jordan. When the ninja bungled his early-morning attack on the couple in the master bedroom of their 4,000-square-foot mountain home, Ind had to finish the job himself, shooting both parents in the head.

Then he went to Woodland Park High School, told friends what he'd done and announced that he was planning to kill himself. He was promptly arrested.

Parricide cases can have wildly different outcomes, but almost all of them involve a tangled history of family violence — or, at the very least, murky allegations of physical and sexual abuse. A few weeks ago in Cortez, 22-year-old Jeremiah Berry was allowed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter in the shooting death of his sexually abusive father; Berry had chopped up the corpse and fed pieces of it to coyotes. He received a three-year prison sentence.

At Ind's 1994 trial, Jacob's older brother testified that their stepfather sodomized both boys during bath time when they were young. There was other evidence that Pamela Jordan had molested her son for years, that school officials knew something about beatings in the Ind household and Jacob's desire to harm his parents — and did nothing. But many of the claims were never presented to the jury, and his lawyers refused to let Ind testify in his own defense. He was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, an automatic sentence of life without parole ("The Killer and Mrs. Johnson," March 19, 1998).

If Ind had testified, it's not clear that he would have helped his cause; he was reluctant to discuss the abuse he'd endured or portray himself as a victim. "Sure, my childhood sucked," he wrote years later. "Being raped and forced to perform oral sex on my mom and Kermode sucked. Being beaten sucked. But what does wallowing in grief and self-pity accomplish?"

He also failed to express any remorse for the killings. "I always saw it as the right thing to do," he told Westword in a 1998 interview at the Colorado State Penitentiary, where he spent much of the first few years of his sentence in lockdown for various infractions. "I'm better off."

Prisoners like Ind, serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles, may have a tougher road to clemency than almost anyone else. Many adolescents have trouble adjusting to the adult prison system and end up with disciplinary records that all but exclude them from consideration. Because they're never getting out, they're not eligible for education and treatment programs that could make them better candidates.

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.
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