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Christopher Lopez: $3M in Death of Man Whose Jailers Joked and Laughed as He Slowly Died

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Christopher Lopez during some of his final moments. Warning: The video and photos below may disturb some readers.
Yesterday, we told you about an $11 million verdict for Ken McGill, who suffered a stroke while in Jefferson County Detention Center. But the McGill incident isn't the only jail-related tragedy to spur a multi-million dollar settlement this week. Colorado's Department of Corrections has reportedly agreed to pay $3 million over the death of Christopher Lopez, whose family filed a lawsuit accusing DOC personnel of allowing the mentally ill inmate to die as they watched, joked and laughed.

See also: Video: Hear Christopher Lopez's Jailers Joke and Laugh While He Slowly Dies

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Jennifer Reali, Fatal Attraction Killer Turned Singer: No Parole Despite Cancer Diagnosis

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Jennifer Reali during a 2011 CBS4 interview. More photos plus video and audio below.
Back in August, we reported that Jennifer Reali, who'd gained a lot more notoriety as the so-called Fatal Attraction killer of her lover's wife than she has for the gospel singing on self-released albums that she recorded while doing time at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility, was living in a Lakewood halfway house -- a situation questioned by at least one of her victim's friends.

Nonetheless, Reali will remain at the facility for at least the near future, after being turned down for parole despite a cancer diagnosis. Continue for details, including photos, audio and video.

See also: Jennifer Reali Sings! Fatal Attraction Killer Now on Fire for Jesus

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A Prison Guard's Take on Solitary Confinement and Who Belongs There

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An illustration of his cell by Thomas Silverstein, who's challenged his longtime detention in solitary. To read more about his case, click here.
Three years ago, Colorado's state prison system kept nearly 10 percent of its population held in solitary confinement, a rate that was about seven times the national average. That excessive use began to change under Department of Corrections executive director Tom Clements, until his 2013 murder by Evan Ebel, an inmate who'd been released to the streets directly after years of solitary.

Clements' successor, Rick Raemisch, has made significant strides in further reducing the "administrative segregation" population, particularly for inmates who've been diagnosed as mentally ill, and pushing programs to prepare prisoners for release. The effort has drawn national attention, especially after Raemisch wrote a piece for the New York Times about spending twenty hours in solitary himself.

See also: Rick Raemisch, Prison Chief, Goes to Solitary -- For Twenty Hours

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New Parole Unit Logs Massive Overtime in First Year

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In the year following the 2013 murder of state prison chief Tom Clements by a parole absconder, parole officers working for the Colorado Department of Corrections put in for an unprecedented 8,858 hours of overtime pay -- and nearly a third of that overtime was logged by one small, elite team created in the wake of Clements's death to track down fugitives.

Averaged for the hundreds of employees in the parole division, the overtime amounts to about 30 hours per officer. But the 2,741 hours claimed by the ten-member Fugitive Apprehension Unit during its first full year of operation works out to ten times that much overtime per officer. (Only nine members of the unit are actually eligible for overtime.)

See also: Why Did Colorado Shut Down Its Most Successful Parole Program?

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Bob Autobee: Parents of Murdered Officer Protest Prison Policies

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Bob Autobee protesting outside the Douglas County courthouse in February.
This weekend marks a grim anniversary in the Autobee household. It was twelve years ago -- October 18, 2002 -- that Eric Autobee, a 23-year-old correctional officer, was murdered in the kitchen of the Limon Correctional Facility. His killer, Edward Montour, was a mentally ill inmate who was off his meds, trying to get a cell move after being denounced as a snitch, and may have been wrongfully convicted of the crime for which he was already serving a life sentence: inflicting fatal injuries on his infant daughter.

See also: Bob Autobee on Son's Killer: "I Don't Want to See Anybody Die"

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Sir Mario Owens: Defense Claims Government Misconduct in Death-Penalty Case

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Sir Mario Owens.
Dexter Harris has provided the police with information on so many murders committed by other people that it's hard to keep it all straight. Yesterday morning, grilled in great detail in Arapahoe County District Court about his role as a confidential informant and key witness in the 2008 death sentences doled out to Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens, Harris pleaded a bad memory -- and conceded that he was "probably high" on cocaine during at least some of his previous court appearances in the convoluted case.

"It's been a long time, man," Harris grumbled on the stand, after complaining that defense attorneys had "placed my life in danger repeatedly" by forcing him to testify about his jailhouse snitching.

See also: Sir Mario Owens: Attorneys Decry Secrecy in Death-Penalty Case

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Why Did Colorado Shut Down Its Most Successful Parole Program?

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A highly successful parole program that helped inmates serving decades-long sentences transition back to society -- and had the potential to save the Colorado Department of Corrections millions of dollars each year in reduced housing and medical care costs for geriatric prisoners -- has been scuttled without adequate explanation, say supporters of the program.

"First, it was on hold," says Habe Lawson, one of the volunteer mentors for the Long-Term Offender Program, or LTOP -- and, like many of the program's core group, an ex-con himself. "Then it was suspended. Then it was outright thrown away."

See also: Did Some of Colorado's Prison Reforms Die With Tom Clements?

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Did Some of Colorado's Prison Reforms Die With Tom Clements?

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This week's cover story traces the dramatic shift in direction of the Colorado Department of Corrections since the 2013 murder of its chief, Tom Clements, by Evan Ebel, a violent parolee who'd just spent six years in solitary confinement. The death of the reform-minded Clements had a profound impact on DOC operations, leadership and morale, but the lasting effects of the tragedy on prison policy and public safety are still being debated.

See also: After the Murder of Tom Clements, Can Colorado's Prison System Rehabilitate Itself?

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Sixth Murder at Sterling Triggers Investigation of Troubled Prison

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A Facebook photo of Cody Gray.
The recent murder of an inmate at the Sterling Correctional Facility -- the sixth homicide at the state's largest prison since 2010 -- has prompted Colorado Department of Corrections executive director Rick Raemisch to promise an "intensive" investigation into the circumstances of the death. The killing comes in the wake of claims that prison staff at Sterling have repeatedly placed at-risk prisoners, particularly sex offenders, in life-threatening situations.

"This is our house," Raemisch said in an interview with Westword yesterday morning. "These people are our responsibility."

See also: Sterling Prison Murders Blamed on Staff Indifference, Misconduct


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Denver County Jail is growing its own food with an aquaponics system

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Courtesy of Colorado Aquaponics
The city's $3.25 million settlement with Jamal Hunter is just the latest hit the Denver Sheriff's Department has sustained in recent weeks. Between charges that complaints of abuse have been ignored and accusations that guards have been drinking on the job, smuggling in drugs and porn and instructing inmates to beat each other until they have "pumpkin heads," there's little good news coming out of the Denver jail system. But while the controversy grows, the Smith Road facility is growing something else: food.

See also: Dahlia Square could become a garden spot -- but right now, plans are sowing dissension in the neighborhood

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