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A new year, a new start: Governor’s clemency decisions forgive charges, sentences

Two dozen people received letters from the governor’s office just before Christmas. The letters contained no decorative wrapping or ribbons, but they were indeed gifts. 

Some of the recipients felt redeemed by their letter. Some felt recognized. Some celebrated. Some cried. Some were quiet.

Almost all saw it as closure on an unsightly chapter of their life, finally pulling themselves free from a history that they’ve been trying to climb out of. 

For all, it was a form of forgiveness.

Twenty of those letters reached people who served time in Colorado jails as recently as one year ago and as long as 60 years ago. They were told that their crimes were being wiped from their record.

The other four letters went to people still behind bars. Those people were told they were getting their freedom back.  

It’s called clemency. It is an action available to all 55 governors of states, commonwealths, and territories of the United States, “although terminology, procedure, and structure may vary greatly from state to state,” according to the National Governors Association.

The president of the country also enjoys that right.

None, though, are obligated. 

“The Governor has complete discretion in making clemency determinations and is not required to grant clemency,” a spokesperson for the Colorado Governor Jared Polis told CBS4.

There are three types of clemency:

  • A pardon is an official nullification of legal consequences for a crime. The granting of a pardon by the Governor or formal pardons board may restore civil rights for services to the state, such as the right to vote, the right to bear arms, or the ability to serve in the military.
  • Commutation shortens an individual’s sentence. If a commutation shortens an individual’s sentence to time served, it results in that individual’s release. Upon release, an individual whose sentence is commuted may remain on community supervision or may be released without ongoing supervision.
  • A reprieve suspends an individual’s sentence or temporarily delays the imposition or resumption of a sentence, including for an individual with a death sentence.

Individuals with a criminal conviction can apply for any of the three, and a group – the Clemency Advisory Board, in Colorado’s case – reviews the cases and makes recommendations to the governor.

Twenty-four people were granted clemency by Governor Polis on Dec. 23

First, the commuted sentences. The letters to those four whose sentences were commuted included the same line: “This commutation will change your future. It is up to you to make the most of this opportunity.” 

Arguably, they already have.

MICHAEL CLIFTON 

Michael Clifton’s story is a long, complicated affair.

Clifton and an accomplice, Rene Lima-Marin, entered an Aurora video store in September 1998. 

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CBS


Both were armed and robbed Blockbuster employee Jason Kasperek. 

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Jason Kasperek

CBS


Both were arrested and sentenced to 98 years in prison. 

But Lima-Marin was released after only eight years. A clerical error which stipulated his multiple sentences were to be served concurrently (at the same time) instead of consecutively (one after another) wiped out nine decades of his prison term. 

It was a controversial mistake. But Lima-Marin made the most of his free time and, in addition to successfully fighting legal battles, became an early subject of a new restorative justice program. 

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Rene Lima-Marin and Jason Kasperek

CBS


Lima-Marin met his victim, Kasperek face-to-face in 2018. CBS4 was there for the supervised, emotional, sometimes contentious, hours-long meeting.

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CBS


It ended with understanding and forgiveness. 

That same year, Lima-Marin was granted clemency by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper. 

Clifton soon afterward petitioned for his own release. “I want out, too,” he told the judge. He was denied

Clifton then followed the path of his Lima-Marin and faced his victim, Kasperek, too. With the same result. 

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Michael Clifton’s father hugs Jason Kasperek during their meeting.

CBS


“There is absolutely no way he deserves a life sentence,” Kasperek told the Clifton family after the meeting. 

Kasperek helped Clifton appealed to Gov. Jared Polis for clemency last year.

RELATED  Attorney fights to get Lima-Marin co-defendant out of prison early

“In 2013, I wasn’t sure how I would turn it around,” Clifton recently wrote in a letter to CBS4. He described himself as an “outcast” among the incarcerated 10 years ago.

“Someone who was in debt to almost every gang in the prison yard. My heart had hardened….When looking in the mirror, I was filled with anger and frustration at who I had become. I shed countless tears and suffered many sleepless night. To say that I was hopeless would be an understatement.”

Something radiated through the darkness, however. Clifton grasped it.

“HOPE,” he wrote. “This is the spark that drove and continues to drive me to be a better human being.”

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Michael Clifton (center) in a photo with family. Inset: Colorado Department of Corrections.

Clifton said he challenged himself to try new things. The results were not immediate, but he eventually changed himself and his environment with conscious effort. “The Shift,” he called it. He felt constructive processes developing. 

During his recovery, Clifton’s primary focus came through the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative. Clifton was a cast member, stage manager and associate producer of theater plays. He even published one as a playwright. 

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Michael Clifton family


He also guided other inmates toward the Pathways To Freedom program which raises awareness of the impact of their actions on their victims, plus prepares the inmates for re-entry into society.

“This clemency will afford me a second chance at life,” he stated.

SEAN MARSHALL

“For some reason people never truly cherish something until that something is taken away,” Sean Marshall states on his website. “And only when we’ve reached our lowest point do we tend to see the heights we’re destined to climb.”

Marshall was sentenced in 2008 to 45 years in prison for his role in a string of robberies in Colorado Springs. 

“You were one of seven individuals involved in the crimes for which you were convicted,” the governor stated in his letter to Marshall, “and of those seven, your sentence was approximately ten times longer than some of the other perpetrators. Some individuals involved in the crime served no time in prison. In addition to this sentencing disparity, you were given a longer sentence than some individuals who have been convicted of murder.”

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A photo a Sean Marshall posing next to one of his murals painted while in prison. Inset: Colorado Department of Corrections.

According to a video submitted as part of his clemency application, no one was injured during the robberies and the only weapon used was a pellet gun.

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Sean Marshall in front of another of his murals.

Ellen Marshall


Two years into his sentence, Marshall was sent to solitary confinement in a maximum security prison – “the hole,” as it’s called. 

“The only company I had were the field mice that used to scurry in and out of my cell,” he writes. ” At the darkest, lowest point of my existence, I began to genuinely take stock of my life and evaluate many of my terrible choices.  I questioned why I walked down so many dead end roads and how I allowed my life and freedom to be taken from me to the point I was trapped in a dungeon of sorts, existing with mice that possessed more freedoms than me.”

In the following days, emboldened by his mother visiting his one-year-old daughter (who was born shortly after his sentencing), Marshall found the courage to forge a new path. 

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Ellen Marshall


“In these moments I finally began to realize something: my life wasn’t over.  Sitting before me were two very good reasons for me to smile, count my blessings and press forward.”

Since then, Marshall has authored two books, worked on the prison podcast through the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative, and was commissioned to paint several stunning murals inside the prison walls. An art career on the outside appears promising.

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Ellen Marshall


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Ellen Marshall


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Ellen Marshall


“Numerous people wrote on your behalf about the impact you made on their lives,” the governor wrote in his letter. “I hope the commutation of your sentence allows you to build on the goals you have already achieved.”    

ROBIN FARRIS

Robin Farris, according to her attorney, is the first Black woman to receive a sentence commutation from a Colorado governor in 33 years.

Farris is determined, Kristen Nelson told CBS4 recently, to become so much more than the sum of her worst acts. Acts that were, by Nelson’s account and Farris’s, the result of Farris’s failure to compensate for her own life’s early trauma.  

Farris was convicted of murder committed during a burglary in Arapahoe County in 1990.  

“Having received clemency by no means erases the harm I have caused,” Farris wrote to CBS4 “Thirty-three years ago, I took another person’s life. Imprisonment has been a time of remorse and acknowledgement for the grief and harm I caused.”

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Robin Farris in a photo provided by her attorney, Kristen Nelson. Inset: Colorado Department of Corrections. 

“Coming to terms with the trauma I experienced prior to being incarcerated ultimately became the pathway through which I found healing and a new direction,” Farris continued. “My past in fact became a painful but important teacher, helping me to understand myself while I counseled others. During the 31 years of my incarceration, I have shared my experiences through mentoring other women–an activity I hope to continue upon my release.”   

The governor wrote in his letter to Farris: “You have mentored hundreds of women and helped them to overcome the issues that led to their incarceration. Many of these women have been released and are now productive members of society. … Many of these same women wrote letters on your behalf.” 

SIDNEY COOLEY  

Sidney Cooley was sentenced in 2005 in Jefferson County on several counts of burglary. It was a culmination of sorts, his first burglary arrest coming nine years earlier. 

Gov. Polis wrote in Cooley pardon letter, “A 54-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. Your sentence is also excessive given that your crimes involved no physical injuries.”

The governor credited Cooley for his engagement in self-improvement and growth while in prison.

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Sidney Cooley in a photo provided by his family. Inset: Colorado Department of Corrections.

But it was Cooley’s response to an accident inside the Sterling Correctional Facility that deserves examination. As the prison shop boss, Alex Lyon, wrote in his support of Cooley’s clemency, Cooley was part of a crew trying to move a 20-foot tall fiberglass mold out of the building using a forklift. Three workers climbed inside the mold to balance it during the ride outside. Cooley and Lyon were two of those three. 

While nearly 15 feet in the air, the mold began to tilt. The driver quickly lowered the lift, but without seeing that all three men aboard had reacted by grabbing onto the forklift’s mast. Lyon’s hand was caught in the moving mechanism, instantly amputating three fingers. 

“As soon as my hand was out of the mast,” Lyons wrote in a statement to the clemency review board, “my first thought was to get to the doctors to save my fingers, or even my life because so much blood was coming out, so I just tried to walk off out of the mold that was still 12 feet in the air. Mr. Cooley immediately grabbed me by the shoulders and said: ‘Alex, look me in the eye. You’re about to walk right off the mold and could kill us all. I got you, just keep looking at me, stay awake.’ He yelled down to the driver to lower us down, and as we started lowering, he told me: ‘You’re ok, try to slow down your breathing. As soon as we’re down, I’m going to help you step out. Hey, look at me, you can do this.’

“Sidney Cooley saved my life, and he never got the recognition he deserved,” Lyons continued. “After I got to Denver, Mr. Cooley sent me a card, and wrote me letters, had his wife calling up there to see if I was ok. The depth of care that came from this man and his family, I’ll never be able to repay.”

Clifton, Marshall, Farris and Cooley are eligible for release at the end of January.

The majority of actions in the governor’s clemency were pardons. Each of the 20 letters sent to those pardoned began, “Many people with criminal histories desire a second chance, and you have earned one.”

The message continued, “I hope you will make the most of this opportunity and treat your obligations seriously. It will require hard work and dedication to stay on the right path. But I have confidence you will move beyond these past mistakes and build a better life for yourself and your loved ones.”

Arguably, they already have.   

MARLA BAUTISTA

Take the case of Marla Bautista. She pleaded guilty to drug distribution in Denver when she was 19 years old. 

“Yes, I have a past,” she recently recounted. Both her parents passed away before she was 10. After suffering through abuse in her teenage years, she went straight to the streets at 18, was homeless and sleeping in domestic violence shelters. 

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Marla Bautista

The Bautista Project


“There was no sense of security. There really wasn’t a safe place for kids to thrive in my position. Unfortunately, I made bad decisions from there. I ended up making a lot of mistakes. One of them was selling drugs.”

The conviction made financial survival precarious. Applying for jobs became a don’t-ask-don’t-tell dance, even for minimum-wage positions.

“It’s tough trying to find a job with a record. I was waiting tables at a truck stop (in Commerce City). It was always a battle. It just deflates you. That punishment was more than what you were given by the judge.”  

Bautista also entered court-ordered drug treatment. There, she met whom she thought to be “the meanest woman in the world,” but this caseworker became a motherly figure, Bautista explained. Sadly, the caseworker changed jobs without warning. 

“I took that really hard,” Bautista said. She relapsed and violated the terms of her probation, and was sentenced to community corrections. Her first day, in walked her new case manager — the same “meanest woman” she’d ever met.

Bautista was surprised by her own reaction to this case worker’s return, this one bit of good fortune, this one wish answered. She turned her life around that day and boasts she has not received so much as a speeding ticket since. She took the experience of standing in charity lines for food and hygiene products and morphed it into motivation.

Now a Florida resident, Bautista is co-founder (with her military husband) and CEO of The Bautista Project.

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Marla Baustista and family.

Marla Bautista


“Today, it’s a very strong organization that cares for unhoused people all over the world,” she said. “We create a sense of belonging. That’s how you end homelessness.”  

She is also the force behind The Belonging Blanket Project which makes blankets and pillows from military uniforms, gives them to kids in group homes and foster centers.

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The Bautista Project


Last year, Bautista gave a TedTalk on homelessness and was recognized by the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning with a community “Go Getter Award.”

And she still keeps in touched with that caseworker. In fact, that caseworker wrote one of her letters of recommendation to the clemency review board.

Bautista applied for clemency two years ago. Like the others, she received a phone call from an aid at the governor’s office the day the everyone’s clemency was announced. Her first response to the news was, well…not as serious as you might think. 

“I asked the (woman calling from the governor’s office) if it included a birthday cake or a check for a million dollars. She said no.”

But, given time to reflect, she grew sincere about it’s meaning.  

“In all honesty, it was a relief. But it was also a confirmation. That was important to me. I had a traumatic childhood. I promised myself that if I overcame homelessness then I would spend my life giving back to people in need.”

Receiving the pardon was like “a recognition that this area of my life is resolved. It’s over,” she said.   

“A check for a million dollars would’ve been nice, but I’ll take it.”

CAREY DAVIDSON

“I started sobbing. Uncontrollably. Harder then when my father passed,” Carey Davidson said of the moment he received the phone call. “I’ve been working on this for four years.”  

Davidson pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge in 2002 in Arapahoe County. 

“It wasn’t my first arrest. But (I realized) this was my reality. ‘Holy crap, I really f***ed myself.'”

Prior to his arrest, Davidson’s family tried an intervention to break him of his drug habit. But he resisted, saying he would go clean at the end of the ski season. But he took the wrong turns.

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Carey Davidson

He compared the lasting effects of the conviction to carrying a 45-pound weight in a backpack.

“A couple people used my history against me. ‘You know that guy’s a felon.’ People would rub it in my face.”  

While attending drug treatment while on probation, Davidson sensed it wasn’t working, and felt he could do it better himself. So he researched the subject and started his own business. Later, at 37, he went back to school and obtained a masters degree in counseling and addiction studies.

Davidson now operates Intervention ASAP based in Arizona. What didn’t work for him earlier eventually became his career.  

“I’m kind of like the Special Forces (of addiction intervention),” he said. “People need help. They’re sick. They’re not bad people, they’re doing bad things. I create a launch pad for making a shift in their life.”  

He travels the world for his clients, going to South Africa, Europe, Middle East. But, because of the conviction, he could not treat clients in Canada. 

Now that’s changed. 

“It’s not who I am, but it’s part of my story. I’ve done a lot to get to where I’m at, but it’s like the stale air in the room. By this (pardon) happening, it’s the cherry on top of building a good life. It’s an almost indescribable relief….a sense of grace.”    

JAY AND WENDY BIESEMEIER

Jay and Wendy Biesemeier may be the only husband and wife to receive pardons simultaneously. 

They were caught manufacturing methamphetamine. 

“You get this feeling of invincibility,” Wendy said. “It’s one of those cognitive impairments that comes from using. We thought we were smarter.”  

The crime devastated their new family. The couple’s daughter was born a month before their sentencing. 

“We missed the first couple years of her life.”  

They married just two weeks before entering prison.  

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Wendy and Jay Biesemeier.

“Methamphetamine is the one that got me,” Jay said. “That led to a downfall.”  

It also led to a brutal attack in the days before his trial in 2003. It was drug-related and left Jay with 12 plates and 24 screws in his skull and a traumatic brain injury.

Such setbacks typically wedge couples apart. Not this one.

“I think I knew I was going to marry her the first time I met her,” Jay said. “We’ve seen the very worst of each other and the very best of each other. All I’d say every day is, ‘How do I get back to my wife?'”

Jay described a day two years into their incarceration when that almost happened. Prison authorities inadvertently housed them in adjacent buildings in Pueblo. 

“I went out in the yard one day, looked across the street, and there was my wife reading a book on a bench.” 

Jay yelled and tried to get her attention. He created something of a scene, he said, and was transferred to a more distant facility two days later.  

He will have a degree in addiction counseling by the end of this year, joining the same profession as his wife.

“Everything depends on this job I’m working toward. The pardon will allow me to work with (Colorado Department Of Corrections) clients now.”  

 Wendy said, “I go into court now and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m here for a good reason.’

“We were very lucky,” Wendy added. “We have spent the last 20 years rebuilding these relationships. My sons said, ‘Wow, mom, we’re really proud of you.’ There’s pain you can’t heal, but I don’t think we could be closer to our families.” 

“The self-editification is a gift. What a tremendous Christmas present.”  

MARK HARMON

“It was definitely a nice Christmas gift,” Mark Harmon said. “I’ve dealt with it the majority of my adult life. Having it off my chest is a relief.”

Harmon pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy in 1994 when he was 18 years old. 

“The shame of having that, disappointing my wife and my parents….,” he trailed off. Then, “I tried not to let that prevent me from being a contributing member of society.” 

Harmon earned a degree in Information Technology and became a Colorado Springs-based entrepreneur. But he, too, was recently prevented from going to Canada by the conviction. Not for business, but on a cruise with his wife.

“That was the catalyst. My wife said, ‘It’s been long enough, it’s been around too long,'” Harmon said. “I’m 47 now, I think I’ve paid my dues. Everyone makes mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. Realize what you did, atone for your actions.”  

The governor’s clemency letter from praised Harmon for paying back all the restitution to his victim and taking responsibility for the crime. 

“I wanted to make my family proud. I wanted to show that one-time thing was not me. To have that vindicated by the governor makes it that much more special.”  

CALEB HALEY

“I shouted,” Caleb Haley said. “I was pretty shocked, just stoned, by the whole thing. It still hasn’t really sunk in. It’s been gone for a week and I’m kind of like, ‘Whoa.'” 

Like several others, Haley was 18 when he began serving time. It was for a burglary in Montezuma County. He had been handed a felony conviction before he been handed his high school diploma.    

“It’s a cloud. A dark one. It holds you back from things, things you don’t think about when you’re 18,” he said. 

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Caleb Haley.

Caleb Haley


The conviction was an obstacle to opportunities throughout his adult life. He was reminded of his mistakes many times: “Man, I guess I can’t do that, I’m a felon.”

Now he looks forward to voting and hunting. 

Haley lives in Phoenix, helps at-risk youth and volunteers for several organizations “that don’t have a lot of resources,” he said, including a feeding the homeless program with the Phoenix Rescue Mission.  

DANIEL COLLINS

Daniel Collins looks forward to hunting again, too. It’s been a long time. He was convicted of burglary in Mesa County at the age of 18. That was more than 59 years ago. 

“I made one mistake, and I believe I’ve paid for it,” he said. “I spent 60 years not being able to do what I like to do: hunt. I’ve hunted all my life. I was raised in a family, we hunted all the time.”  

Collins still lives in Grand Junction, where the draw to hunt is powerful. Unfortunately, he was drawn to follow the wrong path as a young man. 

“I got tangled up with a guy” who stole a saddle from a cabin and traded it for an old car. “I was stupid enough to get involved with him. It was a big mistake.

“I’m very happy that I got it. I’ve not been in trouble since 1963. I don’t plan on getting in trouble again.”    

JOSEPH BURNS

“It was pretty emotional, to be honest,” Joseph Burns said of getting the phone call. “I’d been seeking the process for a few years.”  

Burns was 21 when he pleaded guilty to drug charge in El Paso County in 2000. He managed to have the case records sealed since then, but the conviction has dogged him throughout the 22 years since.

“I still had some of my rights not returned as a former felon. I’ve stayed out of trouble since that arrest date.”

He described a time his application for leasing an apartment was questioned 10 years after his sentencing. The apartment complex manager wanted him to sign an additional agreement that he would not sell drugs from the residence.

“I put in a lot of hard work to change the Joey I was 22 years ago…to get where I’m at now.”  

Burns earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Engineering, works now for Ticketmaster, and continues to live in the Colorado Springs area.

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Joseph Burns and his daughter.

Joseph Burns


“For me, it was important because I have a daughter now,” he said. “I want to be able to teach her that the system works. That if you do the right thing, you can forgive yourself. I’ve forgiven myself. I’ve moved past it.”

As he recalled the impact of the phone call from the governor’s office, his voice cracked. 

“It was a relief. I cried. Even right now….they’re tears of joy….just thankful,” he said. “It was vindication. For people in the system, don’t give up on yourself. It is hard to get out of it, all the requirements. It seems like there’s no end in sight. But the end came for me.”    

Several recipients of pardons declined to take part in this story or could not be reached. We will let the governor’s words speak for them.

William Bray was convicted of theft in 2007 in Jefferson County. He was 19 at the time. The governor’s letter to him reads: “Since your conviction, you rededicated yourself to living as a good citizen. You married, bought a house, built a successful career in renewable energy, and are raising two sons. Your friends and family describe you as a kind, generous man, and an excellent role model to your sons.”

Samuel DeBono pleaded guilty in 1993 to criminal trespass in Prowers County. He was 10. The governor’s letter to him reads: “You have dedicated your life to serving your country and community. Not only have you served in several combat missions overseas, but also you have selflessly helped vulnerable Americans get back on their feet after devastating emergencies. Now, retired from the Army and Army National Guard, you continue to think of others by pursuing counseling as a profession specifically aimed at assisting veterans like yourself. I hope this pardon helps you achieve your career goals. I thank you for your past and continued service.”

Charles Hurlburt pleaded guilty to theft charges in Adams County in 1971 and 1972. He was 18 years old then. The governor’s letter to him reads: “You have become a productive member of society and a model citizen. You spent your life working at an auto body shop to provide for your family, and have been a loving father, husband, and friend. Your work ethic, kindness, and integrity were displayed throughout your application, and I am impressed that you did not let your mistakes define you.”

John Krause, in 1992, pleaded guilty to auto theft and burglary charges in Mesa County at the age of 19. The governor’s letter to him reads: “You have dedicated your life to your family and your community. Whether you are volunteering at local 5ks or decorating your house for the benefit of the community at Christmas, you have shown a true commitment to bettering your community. I’m impressed by the active role you play in your young sons’ lives and I hope this pardon makes it possible for you to help guide them in their experience with 4H.”

Vicente Antillon was 18 when he entered a guilty plea to Adams County drug charges in 2005. The governor’s letter to him reads: “Your friends and family describe you as a wonderful husband and father, a hard worker, and having great moral character. … I admire that you used your early hardships as an opportunity for growth and not an excuse to give up or become embittered.”

Staci Tillman, then 19, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in el Paso County in 1999. The governor’s letter to her reads: “You have dedicated your life to caring and providing for your son, including taking care of his medical needs as a Certified Nurse Aide. You worked hard to achieve an Associate’s Degree in Medical Specialties and a certificate in Bill and Coding and Medical Assisting. We need dedicated individuals like you to care for Coloradans, and I hope this pardon will assist you in meeting your goals.”

Walton Hooton pleaded to a Garfield County drug charge in 1989. The governor’s letter to him reads: “You have rededicated yourself to living as a good citizen. You have maintained sobriety, bought a house, earned a Class A CDL driver’s license, and maintained stable employment. You served your country and continue to serve your community through your church and volunteer work. Your friends describe you as someone who continues to ‘truly live a life of service.'”

Terrence D. Miller entered a guilty plea to theft in Pitkin County in 1985. He was 20 years old at the time. The governor’s letter to him reads: “I am impressed that despite having a felony conviction at such a young age, you were able to work your way up in the construction industry and find a niche in entertainment construction. Since then, you have brought so much joy to the people who have enjoyed their experiences at the various attractions you helped create. Your coworkers and supervisors describe you as someone who is honest, ethical and trustworthy.”

Steven M. Thomas also was 20 when the judge’s gavel fell. He pleaded guilty to forgery in Jefferson County. The governor’s letter to him reads: “Your friends describe you as honest, trustworthy, and a dedicated family man. You have achieved great success in owning your own business, and providing your community members with training and a relaxing outlet serving as a golf pro. I hope this pardon allows you to close a short chapter in your life and instead reflect on all your successes, including raising two upstanding Coloradans.”

Tell J. Jones pleaded guilty in 2002 to Attempted Possession of Marijuana Concentrate in Jefferson County. He, too, was 20. The governor’s letter to him reads: “Colorado now has a framework for legal possession of marijuana. It is commendable that when you recognized your life was not going in a positive direction, you took action and surrounded yourself with people who could help you achieve your goals. Since your conviction, you have worked your way up in the hospitality industry and continue to give back to your community through donating your time, money, and food to the local schools in Boulder. Your friends say you are known for your leadership skills and ability to mentor younger staff in your restaurants.”  

Jones did tell CBS4 that was in disbelief at first, and later cried, at the news of his pardon.   

Similarly, Ryan Tomka was penalized for a marijuana charge in 1995 in Lake County. He was 19 years old. The governor’s letter to him reads: “There was no legal framework for marijuana cultivation when you committed the crime, but under current law there now is a way to legally cultivate marijuana. Since your conviction over twenty-five years ago, you have dedicated your life to maintaining your sobriety, furthering your education, and building a successful licensing and brokerage business. You have been a caring son to your parents, and a helper to families in need, specifically during the 2008 recession. You were able to turn your life around and you did not let this one mistake consume you.”

Lastly, Jay Hemphill

Hemphill’s is unique for two reasons: One, his crime has only been on his record for a year. Second, Hemphill was a state trooper at the time. 

An award-winning state trooper. 

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Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jay Hemphill

International Association of Chiefs of Police


Hemphill received the Colorado State Patrol’s Medal of Valor for his actions in 2007. Hemphill shot and killed Aaron Synder after Snyder walked into the reception area of the then-Gov. Bill Ritter’s office at the State Capitol. Snyder was dressed in a tuxedo and declared that he was the emperor of the state and there to take over.

Hemphill talked Snyder into stepping out of the office. Snyder, according to a summary of the shooting investigation, then drew back his jacket to show a large gun in his pocket. Hemphill tried to step back but Snyder advanced toward him. Hemphill warned Snyder, “Stop … State Patrol … or I will kill you,” before pulling the trigger, the summary stated. The shooting was found to be necessary and legally justified by the Denver District Attorney’s Office.   

But in August of 2021, Hemphill admitted to pointing a gun at a driver near the State Capitol. The female driver was making a right turn at an intersection while Hemphill was crossing the street. “I was afraid I was going to get shot,” the woman told investigators. 

Hemphill self-reported the incident to a superior. He faced a felony menacing charge but pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor menacing. 

“You served the State of Colorado with honor and distinction for twenty six years, serving and protecting five different governors,” Gov. Polis stated in his clemency letter to Hemphill. “You were a model trooper with an impeccable record. … You have taken accountability for your actions and recognize the mistakes you made in the past. You are remorseful and ready to advance to a new phase of life. I believe you will be successful.” 

Hemphill declined to comment for this story. 


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