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Apr 1, 2013 7:11 PM by Tony Spehar - tspehar@koaa.com

Update: Judicial District confirms, Evan Ebel mistakenly released early

A simple clerical error may have cost Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements and Denver pizza delivery driver Nathan Leon their lives as the Eleventh Judicial District admitted on Monday that a mistake in paperwork handled by Fremont County Courts lead to Evan Ebel, the chief suspect in both murders, to be released from prison four-years early.

Starting in 2005 Ebel began serving an eight-year sentence and then in 2008 he pleaded guilty to assaulting a corrections officer in Fremont County. A plea agreement signed by Ebel himself clearly stated that he agreed to serve a four-year sentence for the assault that was to be served consecutively, meaning those four-years would be added to the eight-years he was already serving.

However, the judge in the case never clearly expressed that the sentence was to be served consecutively because it was already stated in the plea agreement. Prosecutors handling the case said they would have never offered Ebel the chance to serve the four-years concurrently, in which case Ebel would serve that sentence while serving his previous sentence.

"I was just afraid, as far as doing my job, that it really didn't mean anything if you like hit a guard and received a concurrent sentence that was nothing for what you've done," former Fremont County Prosecutor Bryan Hunt told 9News in Denver.

But somehow a mistake was made because the judge never clearly stated whether the sentence was to be run consecutively the paperwork sent to the Department of Corrections didn't say whether the sentence was to be served consecutively or concurrently. In that case Colorado case law clearly states the DOC was required to enter Ebel as serving the four-years concurrently.

The numerous documents released by the Eleventh Judicial District appear to show that everyone, including Ebel, believed he was to serve an additonal four-years. Ebel's lawyer filed a motion asking the judge to reduce the additional sentence to three-years.

"Maybe, just maybe, the court's showing of mercy to a very imperfect Mr. Ebel might impress upon him the fact that he too must show mercy to others as he navigates the channels of life," Ebel's lawyer argued in the motion.

The motion was denied, but the mistake in how the sentence was to be served was never found and Ebel was released on Jan. 28 of this year after serving his original eight-year sentence. Soon after investigators believe Ebel killed Nathan Leon while Leon was delivering pizzas in Denver and then gunned down Tom Clements at his Monument home on March 19. Two-days later Ebel shot a Texas sheriff's deputy and was fatally shot in a shootout with other deputies.

Officials with the Eleventh Judicial District said they are reviewing their practices to make sure such an error never happens again. They also offered their regrets and condolences to the families of Leon and Clements.

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