DENVER — Attorney Jack Ebel testified before the Colorado Legislature two years ago that solitary confinement in a Colorado prison was destroying the psyche of his son, Evan.
When Jack Ebel’s longtime friend, Gov. John Hickenlooper, was interviewing a Missouri corrections official for the top prisons job in Colorado, he mentioned the case as an example of why the prison system needed reform. And once Tom Clements came to Colorado, he eased the use of solitary confinement and tried to make it easier for people housed there to re-enter society.
Now authorities are investigating whether Evan Spencer Ebel, who was paroled in January, is linked to the slaying of Clements, who was shot and killed Tuesday night when he answered the front door of his house.
The bullet casings from that shooting are the same type as those found at the site of a bloody gunbattle Thursday between Evan Ebel and Texas law-enforcement officers that ended about 65 miles northwest of Dallas with Ebel being mortally wounded, according to court records.
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Officials said that Evan Ebel, 28, died late Thursday at a Fort Worth hospital.
Officials said Ebel had been driving a black Cadillac with Colorado license plates, a car that matched descriptions of a vehicle seen outside Clements’ house on the night of the prison director’s death.
Authorities also found a Domino’s pizza box in the trunk and a jacket or shirt from the pizza chain.
Denver police say Ebel is a suspect in the Sunday slaying of pizza deliveryman Nathan Leon, 27. His body was found with several gunshot wounds.
Hickenlooper confirmed his relationship with Jack Ebel to The Denver Post and KUSA-TV Friday evening and then in a written statement. State records show that Ebel donated $1,050 to the governor’s 2010 campaign.
But there’s no indication that Hickenlooper’s relationship with Ebel played a role in the shooting.
Hickenlooper denied having any role in Evan Ebel’s parole. “Although Jack loved his son, he never asked me to intervene on his behalf and I never asked for any special treatment for his son,” Hickenlooper’s written statement said.
Also Friday, sheriff’s officers in Kaufman County, Texas, said they were exploring any connection between Clements’ death and the Jan. 31 killing of Mark Hasse, an assistant district attorney who was gunned down in a parking lot near the courthouse.
Kaufman County prosecutors had helped to build criminal cases against members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Officials in Kaufman County said their inquiries were “routine investigative work,” and they had not reached any conclusions about whether the slayings were linked.
State prisons spokeswoman Alison Morgan said Evan Ebel was paroled Jan. 28 after serving his full prison term. He had most recently been sentenced to four years for punching a prison guard in 2008, according to state records.
Hickenlooper said he only heard about the role of his friend’s son Thursday night.
“I didn’t know Evan was out,” the governor told The Denver Post and KUSA, adding that he called Jack Ebel after being told of the connection.
“He was distraught, he was devastated. I’ve never heard him so upset, and he’s had some hard things in his life.”
There were multiple reports that Evan Ebel had joined a white-supremacist gang known as the 211 Crew while he was imprisoned in Colorado. Publicly, authorities said they were still investigating all aspects of his life, including the extent of his links — if any — to the gang.
Experts who track hate groups said the 211 Crew is a small but vicious white-supremacist gang centered in Colorado’s prisons.
In 1997, two of its members carried out one of the most notorious racially motivated murders in recent Denver history, the shooting of a Senegalese immigrant as he waited at a bus stop.
In 2005, more than a dozen members of the gang were indicted on charges of racketeering, bribery, distributing drugs and other charges. Officials have said the gang’s members on the outside funnel money to its imprisoned leaders, known as shot callers.
Legal records show Ebel was convicted of several crimes in Colorado dating back to 2003.
Scott Robinson, a criminal-defense attorney and media legal analyst, represented Ebel in 2003 and 2004. He said Ebel had been sentenced to a halfway house for a robbery charge in 2003 before he was accused in two additional robbery cases the next year that garnered prison sentences of three and eight years.
“I thought he was a young man who was redeemable, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the case,” Robinson said.
Vicky Bankey said Ebel was in his teens when she lived across from him in suburban Denver until his father moved a couple of years ago. She remembers seeing Ebel once jump off the roof of his house.
“He was a handful. I’d see him do some pretty crazy things,” she said. “He had a hair-trigger temper as a kid. But his dad was so nice,” she added.
In an online memorial for the Ebel’s younger sister, who died in a car accident in 2004, his mother wrote of visiting him in prison.
She said he was doing “Navy SEAL-type exercises,” writing poetry, eating vegetarian meals and planning for the future. He read voraciously, she wrote. One of his favorites was “War and Peace.”
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.