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Cortez judge chooses halfway house, rehab over prison for repeat offender

Samuel John Clark
15 years in and out of prison not working, public defender argues

In a sentencing hearing Friday, Chief Judge Doug Walker ordered a man with a long criminal history to receive rehabilitation and four years in a Durango halfway house instead of the seven-year prison sentence recommended by the Assistant District Attorney.

Samuel John Clark pleaded guilty to reduced charges of felony conspiracy to distribute or possess illegal drugs, a Class 3 felony, and to aggravated motor vehicle theft, a Class 4 felony.

On Sept. 1, Clark and Elizabeth Rogers were arrested at the Maverick gas station on U.S. Highway 491 on suspicion of drug possession and distribution.

Clark was also charged with motor vehicle theft that occurred on March 4, and for unlawfully attaching license plates that were not issued to the vehicle, according to court documents.

During booking on Sept. 1, a package found on Rogers allegedly contained 145 counterfeit Oxycontin pills suspected to include fentanyl, and 32.2 grams of suspected meth.

Rogers faces numerous charges including two felony counts of alleged illegal drug possession with intent to manufacture of distribute, two felony counts of alleged unlawful possession of illegal drugs, accessory to crime, violation of bail bond conditions and harboring a minor.

Rogers also faces charges for the alleged theft of an Airstream trailer from the Dolores River Campground in August 2020. The trailer was recovered after a man who purchased the stolen trailer notified the owners when he saw a social media post about the alleged theft.

Citing Clark’s long criminal history in Arizona, Will Furse, assistant district attorney in the 22nd Judicial District, recommended a state prison sentence of three years and four years to run consecutively. As part of the plea agreement, other charges were dismissed.

During the sentencing, Furse said Clark suffers from a drug addiction and he “has a tendency to engage in drug distribution on a medium scale. Hopefully he will think differently when out of custody.” Under the recommended prison sentence, Clark could have been paroled in less than three years.

But Clark’s attorney, Kenneth Pace, argued that prison sentences have not worked for Clark because they don’t address the root problems of drug addiction, behavioral problems and lack of life skills.

Pace pushed for a community corrections sentence at Hilltop House in Durango, to be preceded by 90 days in an intensive residential treatment center to treat Clark’s drug addiction and behavior issues.

Pace said Clark has been incarcerated for 11 years of the past 15 years. If imprisoned without rehabilitation, he likely would continue his criminal history and face prison again.

“If we keep doing the same thing and get same result, maybe try something different,” Pace said. “Prison never addressed underlying criminogenic reasons he continued to offend.”

Clark was only granted the chance at probation once. He once spent three months on parole in transitional housing with treatment services, which led to a period where he was law abiding for a few years.

“I posit if had given him a longer stay in transitional living and a more structured environment, he would not be in front of us today,” Pace said.

Pace argued that rehabilitating and treating Clark would be better for the community than imprisoning him and leaving him to return to crime upon release.

“The ability to gain structure, maintain employment, learn basic skills of life and gain sobriety is how we can make a change,” Pace said.

Hilltop House community corrections is a lockdown facility that allows residents to come and go while employed. Hilltop provides a variety of rehabilitation services.

“It is not a slap on the wrist. Clark knows it is a difficult program, and he has a long road ahead of him,” Pace said.

In a statement during the sentencing hearing, Clark said he came to Colorado to escape trouble in Arizona.

“No matter how far I ran, my problems and addictions came with me. I am tired of running and am seeking help,” he said. “I’m thankful that Colorado believes that people are capable of change.”

Walker handed down a four-year sentence to community corrections at Hilltop House, and $5,764 in restitution be paid to the victim of the vehicle theft.

He instructed Clark to follow the requirements of Hilltop House and advised him that if he were kicked out of Hilltop and faced re-sentencing, he could receive a longer prison sentence.

“I’m giving you the one chance you ask for; understand that it is one chance. Good luck, Mr. Clark,” Walker said.