Robert Walters, the subject of this week's cover story, "Dead End," was persistent, prosecutors say. After one man declined Walters's request to kill his wife, he turned to Rodrick Williams, a career criminal who accepted the job but then ratted Walters out to the police.
So who was the first man, the man who refused to carry out the hit? His name is Michael Leathers, and he has a dark past of his own.
In mid-May, nearly a year after Walters allegedly made the request, Leathers called the police and said he had information about the murder of Brittney Brashers, a 22-year-old Air Force member who died in November 2009. Walters, her former boyfriend, is accused of punching and choking her to death and then faking a car accident to cover it up. Police arrested Walters after his wife, Elena, whom he was two-timing with Brashers, told them that he confessed the murder to her.
Leathers and Walters were housed together in the Denver jail. Leathers told police that Walters had an "intense loathing for Elena" and believed she was "the sole piece of evidence" the prosecution had against him. He said he wanted her killed before the trial and asked Leathers if he could do it. Leathers says he declined the job.
Walters's defense attorneys are suspect of the reason Leathers gave for reaching out. "When Leathers is videotaped by Detective Bisgard, his reason for coming forth with this information is that he is feeling very altruistic. He does not ask for anything. However, there are two follow-up letters from Leathers to Bisgard seeking help in several areas: with his parole hearing, with his reconsideration hearing, as well as with a civil matter involving custody of his child," Fernando Freyre, one of Walters's public defenders, said in court.
Indeed, records show a judge reduced the thirty-year-old's sentence at the request of prosecutors. Leathers is now serving the remainder of a two-year sentence for drug possession after parole officers found suspected marijuana, meth, baggies and a scale in his apartment, along with a handgun. Leathers' pregnant girlfriend claimed responsibility for the drugs and the gun, but Leathers decided to plead guilty anyway.
"I know that I have done nothing wrong," he wrote in a letter to the court, "but I am acutely aware of my past criminal history and the incredible risk involved in a trial."
Leathers's past criminal history looks bad. In 1999, when he was eighteen, he was arrested for attacking a 39-year-old homeless man named George Burdge, who made money playing harmonica on the 16th Street Mall.
According to court documents, Leathers was accused of luring Burdge to the bicycle path near Confluence Park by telling him he knew of a place to get something to eat. Several other young males were waiting for them, and the young men attacked Burdge. He woke up in the hospital the next day, his necklaces, wallet and watch missing. A nurse told him that someone had fished him out of the river.
Leathers was charged with attempted murder after another of the young men told police that Leathers only stopped beating Burdge when he thought the older man was dead.
Leathers was also charged in an assault on a man named Thomas Hollis, who claimed to have been sleeping on the street when a young man threw a trash can at him. Hollis followed that young man, who the police identified as eighteen-year-old Thomas Holden, and hit him in the head with a rock. Holden's friends, including Leathers, then attacked Hollis -- and Leathers, police say, kicked Hollis in the head.
Those attacks were two of several on older homeless men that year. By November, the Rocky Mountain News counted six deaths, one possible death and those two assaults. Two of the dead men had been decapitated and the FBI was called in to help.
The police said the attacks were the result of a turf war between older and younger transients on the 16th Street Mall. The two groups were feuding over the best panhandling spots, the warmest steam grates and other issues, police told the press.
Leathers was part of a roving band of homeless "mall rats," the police said. But he had grown up in privilege, the Rocky Mountain News reported. Before he wound up on the streets, he lived in a "sprawling suburban home" in Littleton and attended an expensive private school for gifted students.
At the time he was arrested, Leathers was enrolled at Arapahoe Community College, where he was studying graphic design, he wrote in a letter to the court in 2000. "I know that the district attorney feels that I have turned my back on the helping hand that my family constantly offers me," he wrote. "I am a very independent young man.
"Before I was put in jail, I was putting my life back on track... I believe I have learned a valuable lesson about friends. There really aren't any except for your family."
Leathers took a deal in which he pleaded guilty to one count of assault. The other counts were dropped and he was sentenced to ten years in prison.
On March 4, 2010, Leathers was on parole when he was arrested again for possessing the drugs and the gun. Again, Leathers wrote a letter to the court, pleading for leniency.
"I admittedly have a lengthy rap sheet and a terrible D.O.C. file which shows me as a more or less 'bad' person," he wrote. After spending the last six years of his incarceration in solitary confinement, Leathers was released in mid-2009. During his eight months on parole, he wrote, his family helped him to move into an apartment, buy a car and open his own business. He also fell in love with a woman named Muriel Keer.
"Your Honor, my life had been one absent of responsibility until I met her," he wrote. "Love may have blinded me in some regards but I believe it has helped fine-tune the better parts of me. Muriel, and now our son Aldrich, have become my focus."
Keer also wrote a letter to the court asking for mercy for Leathers. "I brought terrible things into his house without direct permission or knowledge from Michael," she wrote. "I am fully responsible for his incarceration and in desperate financial need. The welfare of our son depends on him being home and working."
Leathers is expected to testify at Walters's trial, which is scheduled to begin August 30. Walters is charged with two counts: the first-degree murder of Brittney Brashers and solicitation to commit the murder of Elena Walters. But will the jury believe Leathers and Williams, both convicted criminals themselves?
More from our Colorado Crimes archives: "Robert Walters, accused murderer: Who is the man police say Walters hired to kill his wife?"
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