What Went Wrong in Colorado

Saying One Thing and Doing Another

When leadership of NOVJL met with leadership of the Pendulum Foundation a few years ago, they stated that they wanted to “do the right thing by victims” but their actions have shown the opposite. Legislation was filed without notice or warning. They insisted in Legislative testimony that victims cannot claim a right to be notified of their bills, even though the legislation would retroactively undo a life without parole sentence for the convicted, guilty, first degree murderers that killed their family members. Refusing to share information about who the affected offenders are, so that their victims might be found. Calling the offenders victims. Saying that talking with one representative of one victim group consitutes notifying and respecting ALL the affected victims of their proposed legislation. Calling us vengeful for wanting to be notified of legislation that would affect the sentence of the killer that murdered our loved ones. Calling us vengeful for wanting a convicted first degree murderer to serve a life sentence. And the list goes on.

A Letter from Offender Advocates Makes Excuses for Excluding Victims

We think this letter below, published on the internet, tells the story. Our response to this email is below.

To a Colorado Representative who voted against legislation to free teen killers early, from an Offender Advocate, March 2011:

I would like to address your specific complaint  that both victims and offenders were not brought into the process. The Pendulum Foundation has run legislation for several years and from the very beginning we tried to bring victims into the negotiations. One year we crafted a bill in which restorative justice would have  played a prominent part in any process before any offender could be freed. We sat down at the table with the DAs and victims and both said there was nothing wrong with the system and they weren’t interested in ANY changes in ANY legislation. We asked them to help us craft changes. We said we’re willing to listen and to compromise.

We were told NO. We were always told NO, NO, NO.

What you don’t realize is that victims WERE brought to the table during this current process. The DAs speak for the victims. [The bill sponsors] spoke to the DAs many times about this bill. The DAs weren’t interested in any compromising or any negotiation. And they always say that they represent the victims. So, are you saying that if victims and their emissaries say “no,” we’re supposed to forget those 48  who will die behind bars merely because they inconveniently committed their crimes in the wrong span of years? Are you telling us that you can ONLY listen to the victims who seek vengeance and ignore the voices of those who cry out for mercy?

We did consult victims about this legislation. In addition to the DA’s who speak on behalf of all those they brought to the hearing, we discussed this bill with victims who supported our efforts.  They just aren’t the “appropriate” victims, I guess, because they have forgiven and they want to see this legislation passed.

Victims come in many forms, not only the forms of those who testified yesterday. Family members of those young prisoners are victims. Many of those young men were victims long before they victimized others. I find it interesting that we focus on the murder of a body, but we never focus on the murder of a child’s soul, as we failed to do in the cases of the two abused kids who killed their parents and are serving life.  Our outrage is very selective. Our compassion is very selective.

Vengeance is not justice. Vengeance is simply vengeance. We must be better than that.

Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director, Pendulum Foundation

Dear Mary Ellen –

We are the “appropriate” victims who have had a family member murdered by the teen killers you have filed legislation to free early from their life sentences. Talking to other crime victims not affected by the 48 JLWOP cases in Colorado is not talking to us. Talking to prosecutors is not talking to victims. Talking to only the victims who agree with your position, as at least one of the victims families of the 48 has, does not excuse you from talking to and respecting the rights of the rest. You cannot say you have done the right thing by the victims of these crimes until you have found and notified every single one of the families of the 48 convicted murderers you are seeking early release for. No other victims count.

And we are not vengeful people and you should stop painting us as such, just because we sometimes support life sentences for convicted murderers. Most people do. We are however traumatized people and your tactics are hurting us more. You need to stop.


Here is a letter about the Pendulum Foundation to the Colorado Senate from the family of one of the murder victims:

I feel a little strange writing to you regarding legislation that has yet to be introduced but I’m learning the hard way, especially through my recent experience with HB11-1287, that vigilance is the only way to stay in front of the constant disinformation and propaganda spread by the Pendulum Foundation and other prisoner advocacy groups. And, based on the promise by Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director of the Pendulum Foundation, in a recent email to supporters that, “we’ll introduce another bill in the senate” after HB11-1287 was voted down in committee, I felt compelled to address some of the untruths and mis-characterizations that are likely being spread in advance of their promised senate bill.
The Pendulum Foundation is a group committed to the release of prisoners sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18. It was founded by Curt and Pat Jensen, a wealthy Colorado couple whose son is one such offender, and is run by Mary Ellen Johnson, the author of a book about another of the offenders. No doubt some of you have already received calls and emails from Ms. Johnson in advance of the legislation “they” are preparing for the senate to consider. By way of full disclosure, I am not impartial in this matter either. My cousin, Matthew Foley, was murdered by one of the 48 killers that this legislation would free.
A major problem with the proposed legislation is that it completely excludes the families of the victims of these horrible crimes. In an email written to Representative Crisanta Duran, and distributed to Pendulum Foundation supporters, Ms. Johnson claims that the victims were included because the bill’s supporters and sponsors spoke to district attorneys and that “DAs speak for the victims.” (Her letter omitted the fact that many DAs felt the proposed legislation violated the Colorado Constitution.) Admittedly, the DAs do represent the victims and the families in the prosecution of the killers. However, to claim that they should substitute for the families themselves in discussions about releasing the murders that the state has promised to never release is disingenuous and misleading. Article II, Section 16a of the Colorado Constitution says that immediate family members have the right to be informed and present at all critical stages of a criminal proceeding. Under 24-4.1-302(2)(j) it says “any subsequent modification of sentence” qualifies as a critical stage. Changing a sentence from “life in prison without the possibility of parole” to “life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years” is a *substantial* modification of sentence.
Ms. Johnson also claims in her letter that “We did consult victims about this legislation.” However, she later concedes that they “discussed this
bill with victims who supported our efforts. They just aren’t the ‘appropriate’ victims, I guess.” There are no appropriate or inappropriate victims. *All* of the victims’ families deserve to heard and represented throughout the process, not just those few that support the Pendulum Foundation’s efforts to free these murderers. To exclude the victims’ families from the process because you don’t like what they are going to say is not conducive to an open or honest process.
Ms. Johnson, the Pendulum Foundation, and the other groups behind this legislation have a history of characterizing the families as vengeful or barbaric for wanting to see the killers of their loved ones serve the full sentences they received for their crimes. According to thefreedictionary.com, revenge is “to inflict equivalent injury or damage.” For Antonio Farrell and Kevin Blankenship, two of the killers who would be eligible for parole under the proposed legislation, that would mean tieing them up and leaving them in a ditch covered with concrete blocks to freeze to death as they did to 76 year old Barbara Castor. Justice, on the other hand, is defined as “the administration of law.” Which, for all of these killers, would mean that they serve a sentence imposed trial and upheld upon appeal. Based on these definitions, the wishes of the victim’s families seem to fit the definition of justice far better than that of revenge.
I urge you all to consider every aspect of any proposed legislation which would retroactively change the sentence of these 48 prisoners.
Thank you,
Benjamin Gregg