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Suspect in killing of prisons chief spent years in solitary

March 24, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements was shot and killed when he answered a call at his front door in Monument, Colo., on March 19.
Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements was shot and… (Colorado Department of…)

Events surrounding Evan Spencer Ebel's death after a gun battle on a Texas highway last week represent a series of unconnected dots for investigators.

Ebel, 28, has been formally identified as a suspect in the doorstep slaying of Tom Clements, who had directed Colorado's prison system for two years. Clements was fatally shot at his home north of Colorado Springs on Tuesday after answering his door.

A warrant showed investigators had matched the brand and caliber of shell casings from the Texas gunfight with those found at Clements' home. El Paso County, Colo., Sheriff's Office spokesman Jeff Kramer told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that ballistics tests would "prove or disprove" whether Ebel's gun was the one used to kill Clements.

The same formal connection could not yet be made to Ebel's possible involvement in the slaying of a Denver Domino's Pizza delivery man, Nathan Leon, who was fatally shot three days before Clements was killed.

Sonny Jackson, a spokesman for the Denver Police Department, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that police were looking at a "strong connection" between Ebel and Leon's slaying, but he stopped short of naming any formal suspects.

Texas officials reported finding a Domino's Pizza box and a Domino's jacket or shirt in the trunk of Ebel's car after the shootout.

"A week ago today, my beautiful husband became my guardian angel," Leon's wife, Katie Barnhart-Leon, said in a post Sunday on Facebook Sunday. "I would give anything to go back a week ago and make you call off work so u could be here with me right now."

Ebel's father, Colorado attorney Jack Ebel, was also said to be distraught.

"I talked to [Jack Ebel] the night we found out that all the signs seemed to point to Evan," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told ABC-7 News in Denver on Sunday, after disclosing that Jack Ebel was a longtime friend. "He was just distraught. I mean, he was more upset than I'd ever seen him."

Evan Ebel was released on parole Jan. 28 after a troubled time in prison, during which he punched a prison guard and spent "years" in solitary confinement, according to testimony his father had previously given to the Colorado Legislature.

"He'll rant a little bit," Jack Ebel testified in 2011, according to a Colorado Public Radio report. "He'll stammer. He'll be frustrated that he can't find the words. And I let him get it out, and eventually, because I'm his father, he will talk to me. And I'm convinced, if any of the rest of you were to go talk to him, he wouldn't be able to talk to you."

Critics of solitary confinement, in which a prisoner is isolated from other prisoners, have equated the treatment with torture because of severe psychological effects. Proponents argue that keeping prisoners segregated prevents dangerous prisoners from harming guards and other inmates.

The question of Ebel's possible involvement with a prison gang has also hung over the case. On Sunday, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office again declined to confirm whether Ebel was a member of the 211 Crew, a Colorado-based white-supremacist gang with a history of prison violence.

The Associated Press and the Denver Post have cited anonymous law-enforcement officials identifying Ebel as a member of the gang.

The Post further reported that, before Clements' death, prison officials had split up 211 Crew members in hopes of blunting their power and ability to recruit, resulting in concerns now by officials that Clements' killing might have been a targeted hit.

Experts have said that the 211 Crew has a highly hierarchical structure. In 2004, prosecutors, relying on an undercover detective, said the gang had a "shot caller" who would order attacks on other prison inmates.

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