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Will new blood breathe life into Ritter's clemency board?

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Last month's feature, "The Forgotten," focused on clemency -- an executive power that prosecutor-turned-governor Bill Ritter has been reluctant to use. We showed how modifying the sentences of even a handful of state inmates who've received draconian punishment, like the guy doing eighty years for burglary, could save the state millions in prison costs and serve justice.

In his first three years in office, Governor Ritter has issued two pardons for minor offenses and declined to commute a single sentence. But that could change. Soon.

On Monday, Ritter's office announced two new appointees to the Executive Clemency Advisory Board. The board is one of two that examines clemency applications from prisoners and sends confidential recommendations to the guv; the second deals exclusively with inmates who were sent to adult prison for crimes committed as juveniles. The appointments fill two vacancies and may signal that the board is ready to do some heavy lifting.

Both of the newcomers are attorneys -- James Koncilja of Pueblo and Allison Ailer of Lakewood. Both focus on civil litigation rather than criminal matters, although Koncilja's firm, a well-known brother act in Pueblo, has also taken on some criminal cases. Both have a strong background in liability issues and could be considered risk managers. At the same time, they aren't prosecutors, law enforcement or corrections officials -- the kind of folks who tend to dominate clemency boards. So maybe they can bring some fresh perspective to a process that has become more moribund with each successive governor.

In fairness to the board members, it's impossible to know just how many recommendations for commutation, if any, they've made over the past three years. The process isn't subject to open records laws, and all of the decisions made are ultimately Ritter's calls. But getting new eyes on the subject can't hurt.

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