Assistant District Attorney Sean Murray announced Thursday he is running for district attorney in November 2024.
Murray said he has the experience, skill set and passion for the rule of law that makes him an ideal fit for the job.
“My entire career has been dedicated to public service, and I want to continue making a difference here in the Four Corners, which is a place I love,” Murray said in an interview with The Durango Herald.
Murray made his announcement on the front lawn of the La Plata County Courthouse. About 35 people showed up, including fellow prosecutors, a defense attorney and others from the legal community.
The 6th Judicial District attorney is the chief prosecutor for La Plata, Archuleta and San Juan counties. The elected position oversees 27 employees and a $3 million budget. The position is currently filled by Christian Champagne, who is term-limited.
Murray is running against Jason Eley, a former Durango defense attorney and current Montezuma County assistant district attorney, for the Democratic nomination. Murray touted his experience over Eley, saying Eley has not done any felony-level prosecutions in Colorado – at least not that he’s aware of.
In a brief phone call Friday, Eley confirmed he hasn’t done any felony trials in Durango, but he said he has done “many, many” felony-level trials in New Mexico.
Murray said fentanyl, domestic violence and addiction in general are a few of the biggest issues affecting Southwest Colorado. He is a strong believer in diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration as a way to correct behavior, but has no problem seeking prison sentences for the most serious offenders.
He said one of his strengths is recognizing the difference between those two types of offenders and pursuing a proper track.
Murray said he is a strong advocate for victims’ rights in a criminal proceeding. He said one of the most meaningful aspects of his job is sitting down and listening to victims, and trying to make sure their voices are heard in the criminal justice process.
Murray said he was the victim of a crime as a child. A physical education teacher filmed students while they were changing in the locker room and published it online. The PE teacher was arrested and was sentenced to a “long” prison sentence, he said.
The experience got him thinking about criminal justice at a young age, he said.
Murray grew up in Virginia and attended the University of Virginia for his undergraduate degree and law degree. He was hired by the public defenders office before graduating. In Virginia, he worked for the Institute of Law, Psychiatry, & Public Policy. He also worked for the public defender’s offices in Charlottesville and Nashville.
“I've kind of always been on the criminal justice track,” he said.
The Colorado Public Defenders Office placed him in Durango in November 2011, but he joined the District Attorney’s Office in January 2017.
Murray said he lost his job as a public defender for dating a probation officer. He said he informed his superiors, and they told him to end the relationship, which he did. He said they later got back together, and when he told his superiors again, they fired him.
“She's now my wife – the love of my life – and I don't regret it at all,” Murray said.
Murray and his wife, Maria Jose Murray, have five children, including stepchildren, ages 4-19.
His favorite U.S. Supreme Court Justice is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“Her whole life was fighting to make a difference, and I think people like that are incredibly inspiring,” he said.
In November, voters ousted La Plata County Judge Anne Woods, a rare occurrence in Colorado judicial retention votes.
Prior to becoming a judge, Woods served as a public defender in Durango. Murray said Woods was a zealous advocate for her clients, but it was a struggle for her to pivot from that “advocate, activist” role to serving on the bench.
If elected, Murray said he would continue to reduce crime, help figure out ways to get a dual-diagnosis inpatient treatment center opened in Durango, and expand on some of the programs already underway aimed at helping rehabilitate offenders. He would also like to start a conviction integrity unit, which would review allegations of wrongful convictions.
“If we're supposed to be about truth and justice, we can't ever say finality is more important than accuracy. … I think we always have to be willing and able to reassess things,” he said.
Murray said he has litigated more than 40 jury trials, including 36 of which were felony trials, including first-degree murder and child sexual assault cases. He has also argued 10 appeals cases before the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals.
He has worked on drug courts, behavioral health courts and veteran courts. He is the chair of the La Plata County Community Corrections Board, which oversees Hilltop House Community Corrections in Durango.