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Colorado governor commutes 4 inmates’ sentences, pardons 20 people, including state trooper who guarded Capitol

The former trooper, Jay Hemphill, was sentenced to a year of probation after he pointed a gun at a woman near the Capitol in 2021
Gov. Jared Polis gives a speech after winning the election Nov. 8 at the Art Hotel in Denver. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis cut short the prison sentences of four inmates and pardoned 20 people Thursday, including a former Colorado State Patrol trooper who guarded the state Capitol and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge after pointing a gun at a passing driver near the Denver building in 2021 while he was on duty.

The former trooper, Jay Hemphill, pleaded guilty in Denver earlier this year to misdemeanor menacing. He was sentenced to a year of probation. Polis commuted Hemphill’s sentence and pardoned him.

“You served the State of Colorado with honor and distinction for 26 years, serving and protecting five different governors,” Polis wrote to Hemphill. “You made a mistake in a brief instant when you thought you were under threat, and no one was physically harmed.”

According to an arrest affidavit for Hemphill, the woman said she was driving her truck near the Capitol and attempting to make a right turn onto East 14th from Sherman when Hemphill crossed in front of her vehicle, pulled out his gun, pointed it at her and started to yell. The encounter was captured on video.

“I was afraid I was going to get shot,” the woman told Denver police.

The affidavit says Hemphill, who had worked at the Capitol since January 1998 and was a constant presence in the building before the incident, reported the encounter to a Colorado State Patrol sergeant.

Hemphill started working for the Colorado State Patrol in 1995 and was a decorated trooper. In 2007, Hemphill shot and killed a 32-year-old man who declared himself “the emperor” while carrying a loaded .357-caliber handgun inside the Capitol. Hemphill received Colorado State Patrol’s highest award for stopping the armed man, Aaron Snyder, shortly after he entered then-Gov. Bill Ritter’s office.

A spokesperson for the State Patrol said Thursday evening that Hemphill left the agency shortly after the 2021 incident.

Four prison sentences commuted

The most high-profile prisoner whose term was shortened by Polis is Michael Clifton, who in 2000 was sentenced to 98 years in prison after being convicted of second-degree kidnapping, two counts of first-degree burglary and three counts of aggravated robbery with an intent to kill.

Clifton and Rene Lima-Marin were teenagers when they robbed a video store in Aurora in 1998.

Lima-Marin, who was also sentenced to 98 years in prison but mistakenly released in 2008 only to be reimprisoned and then released after a court battle, was pardoned by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2017. The pardon was issued in large part to prevent Lima-Marin from being deported to his native Cuba.

The victim of the robbery, Jason Kasperek, originally objected to Clifton’s release. But Kasperek met with Clifton’s family, CBS4 reported over the summer, and decided to support the clemency request.

Polis ordered Clifton released on parole Jan. 31, writing in a letter to Clifton that he has “taken responsibility for his actions and recognizes the mistakes you made in the past.”

“A 98-year sentence for the crimes you committed is well beyond the typical range, a result of being given consecutive sentences on each of your charges,” Polis wrote. “As you are aware, the codefendant in your case has already been pardoned by Gov. John Hickenlooper. These disparities, coupled with the work you have done while incarcerated, supports granting your application.”

The other prisoners whose terms were cut short by Polis are:

  • Sidney Cooley was convicted in Denver of theft, drug and a weapons possession charge in a 2002 case and convicted of six counts of second-degree burglary in a 2005 Jefferson County case. He has served 18 years of a 54-year sentence. Cooley will be allowed to serve his parole in Ohio. Polis ordered him paroled after Jan. 31. “A 54-year sentence for the crimes you committed is well beyond the typical range,” Polis wrote in a letter to Cooley.
  • Robin Farris will be eligible for parole Jan. 31 after serving 31 years of a life sentence for first-degree felony murder in Arapahoe County. Court documents say she was in her late 20s when she fatally shot her former lover, Beatrice King, in an apartment in February 1990. Polis noted that Colorado’s laws have changed and that now her crime would be considered a second-degree murder offense and that she would be eligible for parole after 20 years. Denver Democratic state Rep.-elect Elisabeth Epps had been seeking clemency for Farris, and celebrated the news on Twitter on Thursday. Farris has been in Colorado’s prison system longer than just two other women.
  • Sean Marshall has served 14 years of a 45-year sentence for aggravated robbery in 2008 and will be released on parole at the end of January instead of 2038. Polis noted that Marshall’s sentence was 10 times longer than some of the other seven people convicted in the same El Paso County crime. “While you have been incarcerated, you have confronted the choices that led you to prison,” Polis wrote in a letter to Marshall. “You overcame many obstacles and worked hard to change your life.”
Other pardons issued by Polis

Polis also issued pardons to 18 other people, many of them convicted of drug crimes or lower-level crimes, like theft and burglary:

  • Vicente Antillon
  • Marla Bautista
  • Jay Biesemeier and 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
  • Ryan Tomka

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