Polis grants clemency, commutes sentences and pardons 24 people

Gov. Jared Polis granted clemency to 24 people in Colorado’s criminal justice system Thursday, including a former state trooper who pointed a gun at a motorist, the co-defendant in a case where a prisoner was accidentally released early and a woman convicted of murder.

He commuted the sentences of Michael Clifton, Sidney Cooley, Robin Farris and Sean Marshall to grant or allow for early parole.

Clifton is serving a 98-year sentence for charges related to two 1998 Aurora video store robberies. His co-defendant in that case, Rene Lima-Marin, was given the same sentence but mistakenly released decades early. Lima-Marin was free for six years, during which time he married and stayed out of the criminal justice system — until the court discovered its error and re-incarcerated him. He was pardoned in 2017 while Clifton remained in prison.

Clifton will be granted parole on Jan. 31. Lima-Marin called Clifton’s imminent release “wonderful” and “awesome.”

Marshall is serving a 45-year sentence for four counts of aggravated robbery while in possession of a real or simulated weapon. He will also be granted parole on Jan. 31.

Cooley is serving a 54-year sentence for charges that included drug possession, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, trespassing, theft, burglary, and attempted assault. He will be granted parole no earlier than Jan. 31, with the release depending on completing his re-entry plan, according to Polis’ news release.

Farris is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole for a 1991 first-degree murder conviction. Her commutation makes her parole eligible Jan. 31, or about seven years sooner than her estimated eligibility date. Polis’ letter notes that, if convicted today, her charges would have resulted in a lesser sentence that would have made her eligible for parole a decade ago. The details of her case were not immediately available Thursday night.

His letter also notes she earned accreditation in counseling and mentored hundreds of women while in prison.

Polis granted former Colorado State Trooper Jay Hemphill a full commutation and pardon for misdemeanor menacing. According to a 2021 arrest affidavit, Hemphill pointed a gun at a woman driving a truck while he was walking across a street near the Capitol. He was on duty but not in uniform at the time. He reported the incident to the State Patrol the same day. He was originally charged with a felony.

He had served as a member of the State Patrol’s executive security unit since 1998, which is tasked with protecting the governor and his family, the governor’s mansion, and the state Capitol. In 2007, he intercepted an armed man at the office of then-Gov. Bill Ritter. When the man produced a gun, Hemphill killed him, according to a description of the event by state patrol.

In his clemency letter, Polis says Hemphill “made a mistake in a brief instant when you thought you were under threat, and no one was physically harmed.”

“This mistake should not define your career or detract from your act of heroism in protecting Governor Bill Ritter from a gunman,” Polis wrote. “I hope this commutation and pardon open doors to new opportunities for you.”

Polis also granted full and unconditional pardons to Vicente Antillon, Marla Bautista, Jay Biesemeier, Wendy Biesemeier, William Bray, Joseph Burns, Daniel Collins, Carey Davidson, Samuel DeBono, Caleb Haley, Mark Harmon, Walter Hooton, Charles Hurlburt, Tell Jones, John Krause, Terrence Miller, Steven Thomas, Staci Tillman, and Ryan Tomka.

All had completed their sentences for convictions that, except for one, were all more than 20 years old, and one as far as back as 1963. Nine of the convictions were directly drug related, and most of the others were related to theft or burglary.

The pardons grant them all full rights of citizenship, including voting, jury duty, holding public office and firearm possession.

Denver Post reporter Sam Tabachnik contributed to this report.

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