The sweet plea deal struck by former Arapahoe County sheriff Pat Sullivan for meth possession and soliciting prostitution, which netted him a sentence of thirty days in jail and probation, has been widely criticized for its leniency. But no one is probably in a better position to appreciate the break handed out to the former lawman than Donny Andrews, a former drug addict Sullivan wanted to put away for good.
Andrews, one of several potential clemency candidates profiled in our 2009 feature "The Quality of Mercy," is serving an astonishing 81-year sentence for a series of nonviolent drug and theft crimes committed over a six-month period in the late 1980s, when he was twenty years old. He attributes the harsh sentence in part to crusading drug warriors in Arapahoe County, including then-sheriff Sullivan.
"I was prosecuted in Arapahoe County and given a thirty-year consecutive sentence for a broken window," Andrews notes in "When is Enough Enough?," a recent essay. "In the same county where the ex-sheriff Patrick Sullivan Jr. received thirty days for trading methamphetamine for sex and admitting to having sex with minors. Coincidentally, Pat Sullivan Jr. was the same sheriff who, at my arrest and trial, wanted me locked up for life for my cocaine addiction."
Supporters of Andrews have suggested that prosecutors were eager to throw the book at him because he was a known associate of Eugene Thompson, a cokehead and burglar who killed two hostages, shot another and raped a woman before killing himself. Sullivan put himself in harm's way in the rescue effort and emerged from the fray a national hero. Andrews had nothing to do with Thompson's rampage, but he was still around to take the fall.
Since his arrival in the prison system, Andrews has gotten clean and had an exemplary disciplinary record. "I had to seek rehabilitation on my own," he writes. "I am now a 44-year-old man who has aged out of crime, overcome drug addiction, and survived many years of the abuses that prison has to offer."
One of Andrews' most vocal supporters for clemency is Andrew Matson, a former Colorado inmate and author of the self-help book Choose to Do Right: A Proven Path to Criminal Rehabilitation (reviewed here). Like Andrews, Matson went into the system on a long sentence stemming from drug addiction and theft -- but the connection goes a bit deeper. The two knew each other at Columbine High School in the 1980s.
"I never knew Donny as being violent or hurtful," Matson, now the CEO of a data analysis firm in Parker, writes in an appeal to Governor John Hickenlooper on Andrews's behalf. "All of his crimes were committed to support his addiction to drugs and alcohol."
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Matson notes that he was given a second chance and urges the governor to offer Andrews -- who isn't eligible for parole until 2025 -- a similar opportunity: "It upsets me that our tax dollars are being spent to keep men like Donny behind bars for decades. Donny deserved to go to prison for the crimes that he committed, but enough is enough.... I believe that he could be a very effective mentor and an asset to society."
Now housed in an honor pod at the Buena Vista Correctional Facility, Andrews believes he has a lot to offer young people headed down the wrong path -- lessons learned from 24 years of punishment. More, perhaps, than his former nemesis absorbed in his brief stint behind bars.
"I want to mentor and counsel people, the help I so desperately wanted and never got," he writes in a recent letter to Westword. "But guys like me are stuck in a system going nowhere."
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Donny Andrews & Andrew Matson: Two friends doing 'dumb things,' two different outcomes."