Why Some Coloradans Convicted of Violent Crimes Get Out of Jail So Early

The booking photos of Leslie Barrett and Billy Scott circa 2015.
The booking photos of Leslie Barrett and Billy Scott circa 2015. Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
In early 2015, bail-bond agent Leslie Barrett and associate Billy Scott were part of a shooting that killed Troy Pitman, 44, under strange circumstances at his Arvada home. Barrett subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of accessory to murder and menacing and was sentenced to twelve years in prison circa June 2016.

This punishment never sat well with Monica Salazar, who was married to Pitman at the time of his death and is currently raising their two daughters, both of whom are still dealing with the tragedy's repercussions. She feels that Barrett deserved considerably more time and thinks she was every bit as responsible for her husband's death as Scott, who was given life plus sixty years after being convicted of first-degree murder and more.

So imagine her reaction when authorities informed her that Barrett had been assigned an estimated parole-eligibility date of October 6, 2019, and would be released back into the community shortly thereafter, on October 22.

"She was sentenced to twelve years and she got out in less than three and a half," Salazar notes. "I've cried every night watching this happen. It's terrible that she gets to be released while the rest of the victims are still struggling."

First Judicial District DA Pete Weir, whose jurisdiction includes Arvada, declines to discuss the specifics of Pitman's case. But speaking generally about the system in which he plays a role as prosecutor as well as a member of the Jefferson County Community Corrections Board, he admits that instances of individuals who committed crimes that were either violent or non-violent in nature being released after serving well under half their initial jolt are far from uncommon as a result of overcrowding and limited resources for detention facilities operated by the Colorado Department of Corrections.

click to enlarge Leslie Barrett's most recent mug shot. - COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
Leslie Barrett's most recent mug shot.
Colorado Department of Corrections
"I want to endorse community corrections programs, particularly in Jefferson County," Weir says. "We have an outstanding program that does really great work. But the concern I have is that it should be used for appropriate offenders."

The way the system operates today, Weir goes on, "there's very little correlation between a sentence a judge imposes and the amount of time somebody is actually going to serve, and we've got to be cognizant of that. It places extra responsibility on us to explain these circumstances to victims up front — to let them know that a ten-year Department of Corrections sentence could mean that it will be only two or three years before somebody is in a halfway house. And without diminishing the challenges to managing the Department of Corrections population, we've got to be cautious that we're not solving that issue by prematurely releasing people who might pose a danger to our community."

According to information shared by the First Judicial DA's office around the time of the original crime, Barrett and Scott went to Pitman's home over what was characterized as "a bail-bond issue." Specifically, Pitman had put up collateral for an unnamed woman who hadn't turned up at a scheduled court date.

Barrett was a licensed bail-bond agent, and she was in business with Scott, her boyfriend, in Scott Free Bail Bonds, Inc. — although the firm hadn't been operating for long. Indeed, Barrett's LinkedIn page dated her work as a "Licensed Surety Agent" as beginning in February 2015, the previous month.

Scott's role that day was "to act as protection," the DA's office noted. But before long, the situation got out of hand. Upon their arrival at the house, witnesses said, Barrett and Scott saw that the garage was open and Pitman was inside with his brother. At that point, the DA's office maintained, "Scott burst into the garage, uninvited, and attacked Mr. Pitman."

Pitman's brother responded by trying to pull Scott off the man he'd targeted. That's when Barrett produced a gun, at which point things got complicated. Scott is said to have run behind Barrett, put his arms around her and his hands over hers, which were on the gun — and then he pulled the trigger. The bullet struck Pitman in the back, killing him.

Salazar has always had a hard time swallowing this version of events. "It just blows my mind," she concedes. "She was an experienced gun user, and she's the one who had the gun in her hand. But [Scott] had a prior, and she testified against him" — assistance that was undoubtedly taken into account when Barrett was allowed to confess to a lesser charge.

click to enlarge A family photo of Troy Pitman included in his online obituary. - LEGACY.COM
A family photo of Troy Pitman included in his online obituary.
As for how someone with a twelve-year sentence winds up in community corrections after serving only a little more than a third of the stretch, Weir offers a tutorial on how the process actually works. "The statute says if you're in on a violent crime, you shall be referred to a local community corrections board within 180 days of your eligibility date. If it's a non-violent crime, it's within sixteen months of your parole eligibility date."

In a non-violent crime, Weir continues, "the general rule of thumb is that an offender is eligible for parole after serving about 35 percent of the sentence. Back that up by sixteen months in the case of a non-violent crime and some people aren't even getting out of Denver Diagnostic" — formally Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, at 10900 Smith Road, where male prisoners are processed — "before they're making applications for community corrections."

He offers a recent example. "Last month, we had two individuals who were convicted of violations of COCCA [the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act] for securities fraud and money laundering, which are Class 2 and Class 3 felonies. They were sentenced to three years, and they'd served four months in prison — and they were accepted by the community corrections board. Their parole eligibility was November of 2020, and backing that up sixteen months, they were eligible to be considered by the community corrections board. That shows it's not true that someone sentenced to three years will serve anything near that."

Another individual "was sentenced to five years for vehicular homicide," Weir goes on. "He was accepted into community corrections after serving ten months. His parole eligibility date was March 2021, within the sixteen-month period. And we had another individual sentenced to four years for felony DUI. She had four or more prior alcohol offenses and was involved in a single-car accident with two of her children in her car. She'd served five months of a four-year sentence, but she was already eligible to go before the community corrections board." In her case, the board rejected her application, but she could still be sent to community corrections by a district court judge. As such, Weir says, applicants have what he calls "two bites of the apple."

Further complicating community corrections in Colorado are differing designations — "transition," for those who are coming directly from the Colorado Department of Corrections, and "diversion," which applies to clients hoping to avoid such incarceration; the state calls it a "last chance before being sent to prison." And then there are inmate intensive supervision programs, which "really make me shake my head," Weir allows. "These are individuals who have not been paroled, so they are still on inmate status, but DOC is placing them in our communities. We had one of these individuals last month. He had been convicted of second-degree murder and served fourteen years of a forty-year sentence, and he came before our board to approve him being placed in our community under the inmate ISP program. He'd met with the parole board, and the board didn't parole him. His parole was deferred, but they still wanted to place him in the community — and the statute provides for that."

The Jefferson County Community Corrections Board rejected the man's ISP application, "but he can go to another community corrections board and petition them to allow him to be placed on that status," Weir points out. He guesses that "the public would be shocked by the number of people who haven't been paroled but are still living in the community. That category of offenders, I think, is troubling."

click to enlarge Pete Weir serves as DA for the First Judicial District. - YOUTUBE
Pete Weir serves as DA for the First Judicial District.
One reason, Weir contends, is recidivism. "We did a snapshot of data that was replicated statewide by the Colorado District Attorneys' Council. We took a one- or two-week period and looked at our new felony filings, and we found that over 50 percent of the people we were filing new felonies on were people already under some sort of supervision for a previous felony: probation, deferred sentence or community corrections. That's why we've got to be very, very cautious in how we proceed from a policy perspective — because people previously identified as felons and end up in community corrections are often committing more felonies."

The Colorado legislature tried to deal with community corrections issues last year in a measure originally known as House Bill 18-1251, but Weir feels policymakers "got it backwards. The bill provides for individuals going into community corrections prior to being paroled, and then based on how they do in community corrections, they get referred to the parole board. But the community corrections board would not have all the information that the parole board has. In my opinion, parole should be the gatekeeper, and not necessarily community corrections. It helps the community corrections board when we're trying to make a determination as to whether somebody would be safe and appropriate to put into the community if we knew the parole board was giving them a thumbs-up."

That particular horse "has left the barn," Weir admits — but other myths about the way criminal justice works in Colorado still linger. For instance, he says, "it's a fallacy to think there are a lot of non-violent offenders in DOC, and if you are one, you've got to work really hard to be there. The non-violent offenders in DOC are either multiple, multiple offenders, or they've pleaded down from an extremely serious offense. If you dig down on someone who seems to be in for a drug possession case, you'll often find out they've had three, four, five higher felonies or it was a drug distribution case, like dealing drugs in a school zone. DAs and the courts are just not eager to place non-violent offenders in prison."

With that in mind, he feels that using community corrections as a way to decrease the pressure on the Department of Corrections related to prison population represents a slippery slope. He argues that "we've totally eviscerated any guise of truth in sentencing — and that goes to trust in our system."

Monica Salazar understands this point. She's filed wrongful-death lawsuits against Barrett and Scott in the hope that they'll have to pay for some of the services her kids need to survive the emotional battering they've undergone since their father's death. And she's struggled, too: "It's affected my work. I can't keep a steady job. I've had to take part-time jobs while [Barrett] was sitting there in jail." After a pause, she adds, "And now, she's already out."

Click to read Colorado House Bill 18-1251 and the Colorado Revised Statutes for 2018. The section of the latter pertaining to inmate intensive supervision programs begins on page 183.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts