Longform

Do Tell

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Whatever the reason, Tibbs's house of cards quickly collapsed. Instead of getting a 90-day cap on his Denver cases, as he says he was promised, he got a 330-day sentence.

Tibbs says he was furious and that he immediately attempted to rescind his guilty plea. He was given another court-appointed attorney, Duncan Bradley, to represent him in a reconsideration of the sentence. Meanwhile, that case and another one involving a pending probation revocation have been handed over to a special prosecutor. The reason: Tibbs's long history of flapping his gums had created conflicts of interest in both the district attorney's and public defender's offices.

"In a normal case," Pluss says, "I would deal with the [Denver] DA to see if we could come to some resolution on this." Given Tibbs's long history as an informant and the personal danger he would face if sent to prison, Pluss adds, an arrangement could ordinarily be reached to keep his client out of prison. Denver's not about to go for that with the Morris case on the line, Pluss says, though a special prosecutor might.

And despite Pluss's skepticism, Tibbs has shown a little of the old magic in recent months. He was sentenced to three years in prison after the probation he'd received on the trespass charge was revoked December 6, but the sentence was immediately suspended, and he was ordered placed back on probation--even though he was still facing the car-theft charge.

However, he still had the 330-day sentence to complete. And when Denver prosecutors asked that Tibbs be moved from the Denver County Jail for his own safety, the jailers were only too happy to oblige. Tibbs had been a problem prisoner, always complaining about something. So they shipped him off to Jefferson County.

In late December Tibbs got another gift from the court--he was allowed out on work release, meaning he was to check out of jail each day, go to work and then check back in each night. But Tibbs was still steaming over how the Denver DA had allegedly backed out of its deal on the traffic charges. The way he figured it, he had done his time. And on January 6, court records show, Tibbs walked away from the jail and didn't go back. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department then put out a warrant for his arrest on escape charges.

Tibbs was picked up a few days later at his girlfriend's house in Denver. When he arrived back at the Denver County Jail, he told officers he'd checked with the courts while on the outside and that they'd agreed he should have been released. Jail officials didn't buy it.

"He tried to show [Denver corrections chief John Simonet] a copy of his mittimus that showed he had completed his sentence," says Sheriff's Captain Kevin Kelly. "And I knew from reviewing his file an hour before that it wasn't right. So I went and pulled his file after he showed the copies to Mr. Simonet and I confronted him. I said, 'These documents have obviously been forged.'" Tibbs had nothing to say in response, says Kelly: "I don't think he was prepared to be confronted in that nature."

Tibbs didn't stay long in the jail. He says he was transferred out because his life had been threatened by a man who told him, "Everyone in this jail wants to kill you." Moments after the warning, Tibbs says, flames blasted through the cell doors, burning his legs. "I wrote a kite [note] to the officers, and they put me in the infirmary and kept me there until they sent me to Douglas County," he says.

However, Simonet says he doesn't believe the alleged flame-throwing attack ever occurred. "If there was an attempt on his life and someone tried to torch him," Simonet says, "I would know about it, because we were trying to keep him safe." Even so, Denver couldn't keep Tibbs, because the DA's office wanted him out in the suburbs for his own protection. And Jefferson County didn't want him back. "They said he was a nuisance," Simonet recalls. "Douglas County owed us a favor," and so Tibbs was bounced down to Castle Rock.

Tibbs didn't take well to his new home. He wouldn't dress by the required time in the morning, wouldn't clean his cell, talked back, and stole his disciplinary reports and flushed them down the toilet. The guards finally threw him in the hole, keeping him locked in solitary for days at a time.

Tibbs claims that the ongoing tour of local jails and his time in lockdown are part of an effort to keep him under wraps until he testifies against Morris. But keeping him behind bars, he insists, is putting him in danger. "I testified in the preliminary [for Domena], and now Givens is dead," he observes. "I'm in fear for my life. I'm safer on the street than I am in here."

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Karen Bowers