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Colorado clarifies sentences after killing of prisons chief

From Mayra Cuevas, CNN
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Wed August 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Inmate suspected of killing prisons chief in March was let out early
  • Death of Tom Clements prompted a review of other sentence orders
  • Department of Corrections, judges changed 276 of the reviewed cases

(CNN) -- A review prompted by the mistaken early release of a man suspected of later killing Colorado's prisons chief will ensure that 267 inmates will serve their proper time, state officials said Wednesday.

After the slaying of Chief Tom Clements, Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered the audit to ensure offenders were serving appropriate sentences.

Evan Ebel, suspected in Clements' death, was released in January, four years early, because of a clerical error.

Clements' wife: Anger won't bring him back

The Department of Corrections and judges reviewed cases involving offenders who received consecutive sentences -- as did Ebel -- for crimes.

Judges reviewed 1,514 cases and left 1,238 sentences unchanged.

But sentencing documents were corrected in 276 other cases, involving 267 inmates. Nine paroled individuals were returned to prison because of the changes.

Here's what happened in the 276 cases, according to officials:

When a convicted person receives a sentence, a mittimus, or sentence order, is sent to prison officials indicating how much time he or she should serve.

In the affected cases, the inmates were given consecutive sentences, meaning one sentence is followed by another.

But the reports sent to the Department of Corrections did not make it clear whether the sentences were to be served consecutively or concurrently (at the same time).

"There was no clearly defined line of authority or communication," Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alison Morgan told CNN.

The sentence documents have since been formally changed to clarify that the prison terms are to be served consecutively, meaning the inmates won't get out earlier than expected, said Morgan.

In some cases, the changes will affect an inmate's sentence by a number of days; in others it may be years.

Ebel allegedly shot Clements at his Colorado Springs residence on March 19. Ebel was killed two days later in northern Texas in a gun battle with authorities.

Ebel went to prison in 2005. He was serving an eight-year sentence when he assaulted a prison guard.

Records: Ebel told prison guard she would 'beg for her life'

He entered into a written plea agreement, which stated Ebel would plead guilty to assault in the second degree and that the court would impose a consecutive sentence of up to four years plus a mandatory three years of parole.

A sentencing hearing was held in June 2008.

"The judge announced a sentence of four years in the Department of Corrections but did not state it was consecutive because it was already required by the terms of the plea agreement," read a statement from a judge and a district administrator.

"Because the judge did not expressly state that the sentence was consecutive, the court judicial assistant did not include that term in the mittimus, the sentence order that went to the Department of Corrections."

Profile: Evan Ebel

A court extended condolences to the Clements' family for the error and promised a review of its practices.

Morgan explained the communication breakdowns and a new law designed to prevent them in the future.

"Because we enter sentences as received by the court, the breakdown occurred in that there wasn't a clearly defined process in place, when the department received an order that we may have concerns or questions about, and a method to have the court provide a timely response," said Morgan.

The new law, signed by Hickenlooper in May, mandates the Department of Corrections, within two business days of receiving a sentencing document, seek clarification if the document does not clearly indicate whether the sentences are to be served consecutively or concurrently.

The court then has two days to respond.

CNN's Phil Gast contributed to this report.

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