Life Partners

In the two years since Westword first profiled Nate Ybanez, top, and Erik Jensen (“Headed for Trouble,” July 7, 2005), their story has gone national with pieces on Frontline and in Rolling Stone that inspired support from around the globe. But the two remain locked up in Colorado state prisons, without a release date in sight.

The two met ten years ago at Highlands Ranch high school, where they played in a well-named punk-rock band, Troublebound. Nate came from a troubled family, Erik from a wealthy one, but the two became close friends and confidants.

In 1998, they both were accused of murdering Nate’s mother, Julie. Between the time the two boys caught the case and when they stepped before a judge, the massacre at Columbine occurred. Although they were juveniles, both were charged as adults and convicted of first-degree murder. Which means both are serving mandatory sentences of life without parole.

The Jensens are pinning their hopes to a new clemency board established by Governor Bill Ritter. Erik has exhausted all of his appeal options in the state; his parents are now prepared to take his case to the federal courts in the next few months. And Curt Jensen, Erik’s father, says he’s willing to fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

“He’s at Limon now and he likes the place there, and he’s not associated with anybody or anything so he likes being a loner in that respect, he’s adjusted a lot better,” Jensen says of his son, who’d hinted to Frontline that he might commit suicide if he wasn’t freed.

With each telling of their story, more details of Nate’s alleged abuse at the hands of his mother– allegations first revealed in Westword – become public. He has an appeal filed in Douglas County for a new trial, citing the county’s lack of response to Nate’s abuse allegations as well as the conflict of interest posed by Nate’s attorneys accepting payment from Nate’s father, whom Nate has also accused of both physical and sexual abuse.

“Nathan and Erik have had a lot of public support and we are hoping that soon justice will be served for them,” says Mary Ellen Johnson, executive director of the Colorado Springs-based Pendulum Foundation, which has taken the lead in fighting for juvie lifers. “Either in the courts or through the governor, kids like Erik and Nathan and all the other kids serving life will be given a second chance.” -- Luke Turf

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun