June 12, 2013 Updated: June 12, 2013 at 12:31 pm
DENVER - The Colorado Department of Corrections revised its procedures after a white supremacist killer who was supposed to be serving life in prison was released by mistake in 2002, another in a continuing list of problems for the state agency that have come to light over the past four months.
Clifton Blecha was serving life in prison without parole when he was released on parole and fled to the East Coast. He was later recaptured.
Corrections officials said a key sentencing document got lost in a bureaucratic shuffle. Officials said they fixed the error and an identical mistake has not been made since then.
Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered an audit after it was revealed a man suspected of killing corrections chief Tom Clements left prison four years early because the courts gave the prison system incorrect information about his proper sentence, which was different mistake.
According to the Denver Post (http://tinyurl.com/nm9tpvl ), the problems stem from documents courts send to prison officials that determines how long an inmate serves behind bars.
Those problems have recently been blamed in hundreds of errors allowing early releases of inmates, including Blecha and Evan Ebel, the man suspected of killing Clements.
In Ebel's case, a document sent by a Fremont court to prison officials did not indicate that a new conviction against him for striking a correctional officer was to be served along with his prior robbery sentence instead of separately, allowing his early release.
Authorities believe Ebel killed pizza delivery driver Nathan Leon on March 17 and then Clements two days later. On March 21, Ebel was gunned down in Texas during a chase and shootout with law enforcement.
Blecha was convicted along with two fellow members of the white supremacist gang, Aryan Brotherhood, of murdering inmate Daniel Shettler in his cell in 1992.
A Prowers County judge sentenced Blecha to life plus 24 years in prison. But the court document was sent to Blecha's case manager at the Limon prison and not to corrections headquarters in Colorado Springs. By then, Blecha had already been transferred to another prison.
After that incident, corrections officials wrote letters to every court in the state instructing that the sentencing court documents must be sent to corrections headquarters.
"We did a lot of work to make sure that won't ever happen again," Mary Carlson, manager of time and release operations for the department, said Tuesday.
In 2007, the prison system was strengthened with a computerized system in which sentencing information was transmitted electronically from courts to the department, but it didn't prevent the recent mistakes that led to the early releases of hundreds of prisoners, including Ebel, prison officials have acknowledged.
Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com