COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Nearly a week after the chief of Colorado’s prisons was fatally shot at his front door, investigators have matched the gun in his slaying to one used by the prime suspect in a shootout with Texas authorities.
The weapon match was a small part of a puzzle that authorities in two states are trying to piece together after suspect Evan Ebel was killed in Texas. They have yet to determine who shot corrections chief Tom Clements or why he was killed.
And until investigators determine whether Ebel, who was recently paroled from Colorado’s prison system, acted alone, “it’s hard to know what his role was,” Lt. Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office told The Associated Press.
“He remains a suspect in our investigation, obviously, especially after receiving this confirmed link from Texas,” he said. No other suspects have been named.
As investigators in Colorado and Texas worked to find more links, if any, Clements’ family and friends mourned a man who had been admired by prison advocates and guards alike.
“My life was changed forever,” his wife, Lisa Clements, told hundreds of people who gathered at a memorial service Monday.
During the service at New Life Church, she and Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke about Clements’ strong belief in redemption. His family said he decided as a teenager to work in corrections after visiting his uncle in prison, and he worked to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Colorado prisons.
Standing with her two daughters, Lisa Clements, a psychologist who oversees Colorado’s state mental health institutes, said her husband of 28 years would want justice as well as forgiveness.
“We want everyone who hears Tom’s story to know that he lived his life believing in redemption, in the ability of the human heart to be changed. He would want justice certainly but moreover he’d want forgiveness. Our family prays for the family of the man who took Tom’s life and we will pray for forgiveness in our own hearts and our own peace,” she said.
Clements had worked for 31 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections, both in prison and as a parole officer, before being hired in Colorado. He began a review of the state’s solitary confinement system and eventually reduced the number of prisoners being held in solitary confinement. He closed a new prison built specifically to hold such prisoners — Colorado State Penitentiary II.
Hickenlooper, who hired Clements two years ago, told mourners that he was both pragmatic and principled.
“He had common sense and he had courage,” Hickenlooper said.
The Colorado governor has unwittingly become a link between Clements and Ebel, who is the son of Hickenlooper’s longtime friend, the attorney Jack Ebel. Evan Ebel was on the governor’s mind when he spoke to Clements before offering the prisons job, citing the younger Ebel’s prison sentence in solitary confinement as an example of needed prison reform.
Hickenlooper has said he did not mention Evan Ebel by name in that conversation, and there was no indication that his relationship with Jack Ebel played a role in the shooting.
Hickenlooper also said he did not having any role in Evan Ebel’s parole in January.
Evan Ebel’s time in prison included solitary confinement, which his attorney father testified to lawmakers two years ago was destroying his son’s psyche. While in prison, Ebel was a member of the 211 Crew, a white supremacist prison gang in Colorado, according to a federal law enforcement official.
Investigators are looking into Ebel’s associates in and outside of prison, Kramer said.
They were also looking into any connections to the killing of a pizza deliveryman whose body was found two days before Clements was killed. Denver police believe Ebel killed Nathan Leon, and are trying to determine whether the slaying was to procure a pizza box and Domino’s Pizza uniform to help persuade Clements to open his front door, Kramer said.
Both items were found in the car Ebel was driving when he was captured in Texas — a vehicle similar to one spotted near Clements home, authorities said.
Jack Ebel has issued a statement offering condolences to all those who have suffered from his son’s actions.
Associated Press writer Dan Elliott contributed to this report.
8:24am 3/22/13 — Texas shootout may tie to Colo. prison chief death
DECATUR, Texas (AP) — A former Colorado inmate being investigated in the death of the state prisons chief and a pizza deliveryman died Friday after a harrowing 100-mph car chase and shootout with police in Texas.
His identity still must be officially confirmed by fingerprint analysis, but investigators believe he is Evan Spencer Ebel, 28, a Colorado parolee who is a suspect in the slaying of a Denver pizza deliveryman, Nathan Leon, 27, who disappeared from work and whose body was found Sunday evening in Golden, Colo.
Authorities also are trying to determine whether the car Ebel drove was the same seen outside the home of Tom Clements, the prison official, who was shot and killed when he answered the door Tuesday evening.
The Denver Post first reported Ebel’s name, and that he was in a white supremacist prison gang called the 211s. A federal law enforcement official confirmed his identity and gang affiliation to The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Ebel is not on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, but the center rates the gang as one of the most vicious white supremacist groups operating in the nation’s prisons, comparable to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Founded in 1995 to protect white prisoners from attacks, it operates only in Colorado and has anywhere from between a couple hundred to 1,000 members, senior fellow Mark Potok said Friday.
The gang has grown into a sophisticated criminal enterprise where members are assigned military titles like “general” and extort money from fellow prisoners, regardless of race. Released members are expected to make money to support those still in prison, Potok said. He said members have to attack someone to get in and can only get out by dying.
“It’s blood in and blood out,” he said.
In 2005, 32 members were indicted for racketeering and the gang’s founder, Benjamin Davis, was sentenced to over 100 years in prison.
The killing of Clements, 58, shocked his quiet neighborhood in Monument, a town of rolling hills north of Colorado Springs, for its brutality: He answered the door of his home Tuesday evening and was gunned down. Authorities wouldn’t say if they thought the attack was related to his job, and all Clements’ recent public activities and cases were scrutinized.
The Texas car chase started when a sheriff’s deputy in Montague County, James Boyd, tried to pull over the Cadillac around 11 a.m. Thursday, authorities there said. They wouldn’t say exactly why he was stopped, but called it routine.
The driver opened fire on Boyd, wounding him, Wise County Sheriff David Walker said at an afternoon news conference in Decatur. He then fled south before crashing into a semi as he tried to elude his pursuers.
After the crash, he got out of the vehicle, shooting at deputies and troopers who had joined the chase. He shot at Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins four times as the chief tried to set up a roadblock.
“He wasn’t planning on being taken alive,” Hoskins said.
Boyd, the deputy who was shot, was wearing a bulletproof vest and was at a Fort Worth hospital, authorities said. Officials had said he wasn’t seriously injured but later said his condition was unknown.
Legal records show Ebel was convicted of several crimes in Colorado dating back to 2003, including assaulting a prison guard in 2008. He apparently was paroled, but Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alison Morgan said she could not release information on prisoners because of the ongoing investigation into Clements’ death.
Scott Robinson, a criminal defense attorney and media legal analyst, represented Ebel in 2003 and 2004. He said Ebel had been sentenced to a halfway house for a robbery charge in 2003 before he was accused in two additional robbery cases the following year that garnered prison sentences of three and eight years.
“I thought he was a young man who was redeemable, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the case,” Robinson said, saying he didn’t recall the details of the case.
Robinson said he knew Ebel before he got in trouble. He said Ebel was raised by a single father and had a younger sister who died in a car accident years ago.
Vicky Bankey said Ebel was in his teens when she lived across from him in suburban Denver until his father moved a couple of years ago. She remembers seeing Ebel once jump off the roof of his house. “He was a handful. I’d see him do some pretty crazy things,” she said.
“He had a hair-trigger temper as a kid. But his dad was so nice,” Bankey said.
Ebel’s father didn’t return an after-hours phone message left at his business.
Clements came to Colorado in 2011 after working three decades in the Missouri prison system. Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman Mandi Steele said Thursday the department was ready to help in the probe if asked.
The last public official killed in Colorado in the past 10 years was Sean May, a prosecutor in suburban Denver. An assailant killed May as he arrived home from work. Investigators examined May’s court cases, but the case remains unsolved.