In Colorado the Summer of 1993 came to be known as “The Summer of Violence.” In Denver alone that year there were 5,252 violent crimes : 74 murders, 393 forcible rapes, 1,863 robberies, and 2,922 agravated assaults . The crime rate was nearly double the rate in 1993 when compared with 2009. This was an astonishing amount of violent crime that was mirrored across the country. (source: http://www.ucrdatatool.gov)
The crime wave would trigger changes in Colorado. A massive public outcry and hasty emergency session of the Colorado State Legislature was convened by then Governor Roy Romer. The Legislature passed sweeping reactionary reforms that resulted in direct file for youth offenders. Prior to the passage of the direct file law in Colorado there were well defined procedures for transferring youth offenders to adult court. The District Attorney would first make a request, followed by a hearing where the child was represented by an attorney. The judge would then rule whether the child should be charged as an adult. Direct file changed that.
The legislature determined that youths who committed adult crimes should be treated as adults and could therefor serve life without parole. Gone now was the well defined process that had governed Colorado’s Juvenile Justice Court. The law gave prosecutors the arbitrary power to try youth offenders as adults with no intervention from judge or jury. The prosecutor had now assumed the role of judge and juror.
Many felt the amount of power placed into the hands of the Prosecutor was certainly undemocratic and robbed the Judge of his ability to weigh mitigating circumstances in the case. Many youth offenders serving victim to the direct file statute were physically, mentally, and sexually abused as children, but some like Erik Jensen were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Erik Jensen was a typical High School student who had the misfortune of being faced with a terrible decision. One that no teenager should have to make. In 1998 his friend, Nathan Ybanez, a victim of chronic mental and sexual abuse by his parents could no longer take the abuse any longer, but before he snapped his friends attempted getting him help. The only way they knew how to at the age of 16 was to go to Erik’s parents, Curt and Pat Jensen. The Jensen’s went to a county social services worker who told them the department did not have the resources to look into the alleged abuse.
On June 5th, 1998 Nathan snapped and murdered his mother. Awaiting him outside, with no knowledge of what was about to take place was Erik Jensen. After waiting for 20-30 minutes for his friend Erik came inside. Nathans mother instructed Erik to go to Nathans room before he could get there Nathan had struck his mother with a blunt object screaming “You’ll never do this to me again.” Nathan eventually strangled his mother as his stunned teenage friend looked on.
Not knowing what to do, the boys called their friend Brett, and the three cleaned up the house and moved the body of Julie Ybanez into Nathans car. Nathan was found a few hours later by police crying beside his mothers body in an empty parking lot. Nathan was charged with first degree murder. Erik and Brett were initially charged with destroying evidence. However, after making a deal with the prosecutor Brett’s charges were dropped and Erik’s were enhanced to conspiracy to commit murder and complicity in murder. This was based on the testimony of his friend that Erik had told him he had struck Julie Ybanez. Months later the Columbine Shootings would occur. Many believe the shootings sealed Erik and Nathans fates as it would be impossible to find an impartial jury. Erik and Nathan are now serving life sentences without possibility of parole in Limon Prison, Colorado.
In 2006, due to aggressive campaigning from citizens and groups such as the Pendulum Foundation the direct file law was overturned with one caveat: The law change would not be retroactive meaning youths, many of which were now adults, would not be eligible for parole. In Colorado to date there are approximately 50 juveniles serving life without parole (JLWOP) and over 2,570 nationwide.
No other youth has to suffer the injustice of having his or her life completely taken away any longer, but there are still those who deserve a chance to have their case brought before a parole board. Unfortunately the law forbids it, but there is still hope through the juvenile clemency board. The board was launched by Governor Bill Ritter in 2007 as an alternative to further legislation on JLWOP. Unfortunately to date, there has not been a single sentence commuted by the board.
The Pendulum Foundation and allied organizations like Campaign For Fair Sentencing of Youth and the National JLWOP organization are working to change this and need your help in the effort. The Pendulum Foundation is campaigning for the Juvenile Clemency Board to grant clemency to some of the 50 serving JLWOP. Contact Mary Ellen Johnson (maryellen[@]pendulumfoundation dot com), Director of the Pendulum Foundation for more information or if you are located in Utah use the contact form to get in touch with Bail Bond Policy.