Since 2013, we've been covering the murder of Martel Thomas, a veteran who was buried with full military honors.
There's no suspense about who took Thomas's life: In 2015, Ken Mackey pleaded guilty to the crime, which involved a cocaine deal gone wrong, gunplay and a battle with a samurai sword.
But the case isn't over. Thomas's family has filed suit against the City of Denver because Mackey managed to commit the killing while wearing a GPS ankle monitor.
As we've reported, Mackey was free on bond related to attempted murder beefs — and a lawsuit maintains that if that bond had been revoked for any of several crimes he committed during the period when he was under so-called "intensive supervision," Thomas would be alive today.
A previous ruling held that Denver was protected from being sued by qualified immunity, which "protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights," according to the court document on view below.
However, attorney Michael Evans, who's been fighting on behalf of Thomas's loved ones for approximately two years, argues in his appeal that Denver doesn't deserve immunity in the case.
A habitual offender, Mackey boasts an arrest record that goes back to at least 1990.
But his most notorious previous crime involved a 2000 car jacking that appeared to have led to the death by heart attack of Frank Scalise — an incident author Juliet Wittman covered for Westword in an article headlined "A Question of Intent."
Here's an excerpt from that post:
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Milda Scalise had no idea that March 15 would be her last day with her 69-year-old husband, Frank. The two of them had eaten lunch at the Washington Park Grille and then gone to see Fantasia 2000. "We always had a lot of fun together," she says. On the way home, they stopped at their neighborhood Safeway, at East Evans Avenue and South Downing Street. They checked through the line and were walking toward the door. Suddenly Frank "left the cart and went running," Milda says. "I couldn't understand why. I saw him tackle this man and money flying everywhere. Some construction men went over to help him. A woman came out from behind the counter. She was very excited and she said to move back."
Scalise had helped foil a robbery. Police arrived. The man Scalise had tackled was arrested. Frank still lay on the floor. "He died in the exit," Milda says.
For Kenneth Mackey, aka Kenny Ray Samson, it had been a busy day. Earlier, a man matching his description had accosted Derek Koch on Bellaire Street at 12th Avenue. "Get out of your car and leave your wallet or I'll shoot you," the man said, according to Koch. The man then grabbed the wallet, got into the car and sped away.
Shown a photo lineup, Koch tentatively identified the mugger as Mackey. The man in the photograph had the same cold eyes as the man who stole his car, he said. A little later, Mackey watched outside the Safeway as a customer approached the service counter. When the clerk opened the drawer, Mackey pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, ran in, pushed aside the clerk and grabbed the money. As he tried to get away, he was confronted by Frank Scalise, along with three other men. They wrestled him to the ground. "I have a gun," Mackey yelled.
Mackey has several petty crimes on his record. He told police he'd robbed the Safeway for money for a place to stay. Four of Koch's credit cards were found in his pocket. There was no gun.
Although Mackey was initially charged with murder in the Scalise matter, that count was dismissed, leaving a robbery conviction that kept him in jail until February 2013.
But within months of his release, he was already back in trouble: On May 31 of that year, he was hit with two attempted murder counts, as well as a previous-offender gun-possession charge. Mackey pleaded not guilty to those charges and was freed on a $100,000 bond — hence the aforementioned ankle monitor.
Later that month, on November 26, Mackey found more trouble in an incident that took place on the 1400 block of Lima Street in Aurora, , an area captured in the following interactive graphic. If you have problems seeing the image, click "View on Google Maps.".
What happened? At approximately 2:45 a.m. on the 26th, according to the 18th Judicial District DA's office, two men forced their way into the home of Thomas, 65.
The two were later identified as Mackey and Greg McCoy, a 46-year-old mentioned in our 2015 feature about Sharod Kindell. McCoy was the common-law husband of Sharod's mother, Sherri Landrum; Sharod was shot by Denver police officers while inside his car in January of last year.
The DA's office maintains that Thomas also dealt cocaine — and this particular line is the reason Mackey and McCoy were there, prosecutors maintain.
"Mackey and McCoy knew that Thomas was a cocaine dealer and attempted to steal any drugs, cash and valuables inside the home," the office stated in a release.
These scheme went very wrong very quickly.
The DA's office says Mackey and McCoy fired a couple of shots through the window of Thomas's apartment, then broke through the door, guns still blazing.
Thomas wasn't alone; an unnamed woman was also present. She's said to have taken cover while Thomas grabbed a gun of his own and fired a shot that killed McCoy.
At that point, Mackey found a samurai sword on a wall of the living room and used it in a continuing fight with Thomas, prosecutors say.
Shortly thereafter, Thomas managed to run out of the home, but he collapsed in a nearby alley as Mackey gave chase.
In the end, Thomas was hit by three shots, with one to his chest proving fatal.
Rather than splitting at that point, Mackey returned to the apartment, prosecutors say, and demanded that the woman inside tell him where to find the keys to Thomas's car. He allegedly took the keys, $80 from her purse and some cocaine, after which he used Thomas's gun to shoot her in the left breast.
She survived and Mackey was rounded up a short time later.
In April 2015, Mackey was convicted of two first-degree murder counts, as well as attempted murder and several other charges related to robbery, burglary and car theft. But the lawsuit maintains that he would never have had the chance to commit these crimes had Denver been doing its job.
How so? The suit outlines numerous offenses committed by Mackey while under so-called "intensive supervision"— a designation that included mandated wearing of the ankle monitor.
Examples: On October 6, 2013, he was accused of committing motor-vehicle theft; on November 6, he allegedly eluded a police officer; and on November 24, he is said to have committed a sex offense and aggravated robbery involving the possession of a weapon. Had his bond been revoked for any of these offenses, he wouldn't have been loose on November 26, when he killed Thomas.
Nonetheless, a U.S. District magistrate granted Denver qualified immunity against the lawsuit, determining that the facts of the case "were not egregious and outrageous enough to shock his conscience," the document states.
Evans argues otherwise in the following appeal, about which he writes: "When the facts become horrific enough, the public demands justice. Colorado needs to fall in line."
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