Nate's Turn

If Nate Ybanez is ever to see life outside of prison, he needs lots of attention --and Rolling Stone just turned on the spotlight.

Nate is one of more than forty people serving life without parole for murders they committed in Colorado before turning eighteen. He and his buddy, Erik Jensen, killed Nate's mother one summer night in 1998. Both were convicted of first-degree murder.

During his trial, Nate didn't talk about the oral sex that he now says his father made him perform in the shower, or the fact that his mother forced him to penetrate her. His allegations of sexual and physical abuse first became public record when he testified at an appeal hearing for his buddy, Erik, as originally reported in Westword.

Rolling Stone wrongly credited the Denver Post for bringing Nate's abuse to light, but otherwise, the article is an amazing piece of reporting. Writer Paul Solotaroff even got a police officer in Iowa to admit that Nate's grandfather probably murdered one of his own children and got away with it. That story lends credibility to the theory that Nate's father, Roger, was raised in an abusive environment and likely abused Nate as well.

Roger wouldn't talk to Rolling Stone. When Westword asked Roger about allegations that he'd abused his son, he replied, "I don't remember any of that."

Since Nate's story went national, thousands of dollars have poured into the Pendulum Foundation, a non-profit juvenile-justice advocacy organization based in Colorado Springs that has taken the lead on representing kids doing life in Colorado.

"As parents, we will always say that if my child were molested, I would kill the molester -- and yet someone like Nathan Ybanez, when they reach out and act in violence, we throw them in jail for life without parole," says Mary Ellen Johnson, Pendulum's executive director.

In addition to money, Johnson's group has also gotten hundreds of offers of help from citizens, PR firms, media outlets and attorneys. Since he was sentenced to life without parole -- a sentence that the Colorado Legislature has since banned for juveniles tried as adults -- Nate's only chances for ever getting out are clemency or a successful appeal.

But with the renewed attention and offers of help finally coming in, Nate may finally have a chance. -- Luke Turf

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.
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