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After pardon of a Colorado inmate, accomplice wants a chance at proving himself

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In this May 7, 2014 photo, Rene Lima-Marin talks with a guard who escorts him back to the prison block following an interview with The Associated Press about the circumstances of his sentencing and incarceration, inside Kit Carson Correctional Center, a privately operated prison in Burlington, Colo. Lima-Marin, who was sent back to prison after being mistakenly released 90 years early, says it was cruel and unusual punishment to put him back behind bars after he reformed his life. An appeal filed Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 in his case also says his constitutional rights were violated when a judge in January ordered him to finish his sentence after he started a family during nearly six years of freedom. A judge in 2000 sentenced Lima-Marin to a total of 98 years in prison for multiple counts stemming from the robbery of two video stores when Lima-Marin was 20. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

DENVER (AP) — Michael Clifton understands that he’s a secondary character in another man’s redemption narrative — the improbable story of Rene Lima-Marin, whose mistaken early release from prison led to rehabilitation, re-incarceration and now possibly freedom, if he can resolve some thorny immigration issues.

But while Lima-Marin attracted support from social justice advocates to legislators to the governor, Clifton — his co-defendant in two 1998 video store robberies — has continued to serve a 98-year sentence that many, including the trial judge, found disturbing.

Now, after watching his childhood friend prevail in the state courts and receive an official pardon, Clifton wishes him nothing but the best. He also hopes all the attention might shine a light on his own circumstances.

“I’m not asking to be immediately released,” Clifton said by phone from the Sterling Correctional Facility. “But I’m asking: Shouldn’t we address the excessive sentence for me? Am I not deserving? Can I not redeem myself?”

Clifton, 38, said that while the system imposed the same consequences on them — both received 98 years — their circumstances were markedly different from the day they entered the prison system. The error on Lima-Marin’s sentencing paperwork, which showed him serving only 16 years, offered hope and opportunity for release.

Clifton faced a virtual life sentence.

Lima-Marin served his time as a model prisoner. Clifton was cited for disciplinary violations — mostly contraband and behavioral issues but also a 2004 incident in which he stabbed another inmate.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, asked about clemency for Clifton at his news conference last month announcing the pardon for Lima-Marin, dismissed the possibility, citing the inmate’s stabbing incident.

“That’s not rehabilitating your life in the way that we’re talking,” the governor said.

Clifton counters that the stabbing occurred many years ago, and came in response to being jumped by two inmates in a prison environment — the Limon Correctional Facility — that was harsher than what Lima-Marin experienced. He claims media accounts have unfairly focused on that single incident and the fact that Lima-Marin distanced himself from his former friend as he sought to change his life.

“It seemed like the narrative came to pit my co-defendant against me, to put him in a shining light and put me in the position that I was this bad person undeserving of a second chance,” Clifton said. “It seemed like I’m only brought up to say how he severed ties with me or how I had trouble in prison.

“I’d like to have a perfect prison record,” he added, “but circumstances didn’t allow it. Maybe I wasn’t mature enough, or had to go through my own journey. But to hold that against me, that I shouldn’t get any relief because of my prison record, is hard for me to accept.”

Clifton said he has exhausted his appeals but wants to seek a review of his sentence or, if that doesn’t happen, file a clemency petition “to see if the governor or clemency board has a change of heart.”

Although circumstances didn’t allow Clifton an opportunity to prove himself as Lima-Marin did, he said that like his co-defendant, he also has two children. Clifton’s son and daughter are now in their early 20s.
Clifton’s family shares his feeling that his sentence was excessive.

“Michael has done 19 years and counting,” said Earnestine Clifton, Michael’s mother, from her home in Louisiana. “He never had the opportunity to get out and prove himself the way Rene did. I hope he gets an opportunity to make his case, for people to listen to him and understand they were young and made some stupid choices back then.”

Karen Harris, Clifton’s sister, said that she’s happy Lima-Marin has been given a reprieve from an unjust sentence and prays for him and his family as they navigate the immigration issues.
“But I just want to see justice done for my brother,” she added. “We need to make some noise and get people involved. It’s not fair to keep him locked up. I’m happy for Lima-Marin, but I want to talk about Michael Clifton at this point.”

Clifton developed a close friendship with Lima-Marin from the time they met in a Montbello middle school. Later, after they got into trouble as juveniles, Clifton was sent away to a Pennsylvania facility, where he earned his GED. But shortly after his return to Colorado, the two reconnected and launched their ill-fated plan to rob the Aurora video stores.

Though no one was injured, prosecutors filed a litany of charges that resulted in 98-year sentences for both men. Here, their stories diverge: A mistake on Lima-Marin’s paperwork, which had his sentences running concurrently instead of consecutively, dropped his time to 16 years.

He underwent a spiritual rebirth and, after his parole in 2008, married his longtime girlfriend, started a family and became a productive member of his community. But when authorities discovered the mistake in 2014, he was sent back to prison.

Last month, an Arapahoe County District Court judge granted a writ of habeas corpus and ordered him released. When immigration authorities immediately stepped in to deport Lima-Marin, who arrived in the U.S. from Cuba when he was 2, Hickenlooper quickly granted him a pardon to dissolve his felony convictions in hope of resolving his immigration issues and reuniting him with his family.

Lima-Marin remains in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities while an immigration lawyer pursues his case.

Clifton hopes Lima-Marin does not get deported.

“I would be sad to hear that,” he said. “He’s a father now, he’s got young kids, and his family could be left with having a long distance relationship or move to Cuba. That would be a devastating situation. I pray for him and hope that everything works out for him.”

Clifton said he takes full responsibility for his crimes and the “psychological trauma and fear I placed the victims in.” But the unfairness of his sentence, he added, is compounded by the circumstances that have put his co-defendant in a position to regain his freedom.

“What I want the public to know is I sit here a humble man,” he said. “I recognize what I did was wrong. What I’d like them to understand is I deserve a second chance just like he did. He was given his by a clerical error. And I didn’t have a clerical error.”
___
Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com

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Pull – Don’t Pray – for Pueblo: Yard-sign activism must be met with bootstrap action 

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Maneuvering the pickup over the dirt road so rutted and deeply cratered that our heads bounced dangerously close to the cab’s ceiling, Sal Katz, a retired army combat veteran, laughed.

“Just a little bumpy,” he said. “But let’s swing in here and park,” as he stopped the truck. “And listen, be careful of the dogs, they can be aggressive.”

It was an early morning in July and the heat was already oppressive. We were near the banks of the Fountain River behind the northside Wal-Mart, and were checking on people who were homeless and lived tucked away from nearby traffic. Katz and fellow Vietnam veteran Ed Ryan, was part of Posada’s response team who checked on people on camps around town, those who lived near the slag heaps left over from CF & I, and at the campgrounds in Pueblo West, dots on a map that Posada had identified as needing water, medical help, and information about services.

It was 2015 and Pueblo County had recently made the sale of recreational marijuana legal. At the same time, Pueblo had been touted as one of the country’s least expensive places to live. The state had voted to expand Medicaid. All had created a perfect storm for an influx of people from out of state looking for a new home. The out of state plates on cars piled high with furniture and stuffed with families filled Posada’s parking lot: I talked to many of them for a story for the Guardian with the unfortunate title, “Welcome to Pueblo, Colorado: The Pot Rush Town for the Marijuana Industry.”

I say unfortunate because the story was not only about travelers who had come for jobs in the new marijuana industry. It was about the response of Pueblo’s social service agencies to the city’s rising poverty rates among Puebloans, and how the agencies, whether governmental or non-profit, were already struggling to help the city’s poor and had been for many years, when the out-of-staters arrived.

It was about how Edie De La Torre, executive director of Pueblo’s Cooperative Care Center, Anne Stattelman of Posada, and Sister Nancy Crafton of El Centro De Los Pobres, and others, do the daily and unglamorous work of helping people do the most basic things: eat, receive medical care, and have a roof over their heads.

My path as a freelance writer landed me in Pueblo in 2014: a city I had only visited a few times because my boyfriend is here, a place the national media often refers to as “flyover country,” a city that shares many of the same social problems as other former industrial towns across the country: high poverty and crime rates, few job opportunities, failing schools, the opioid crisis, hospital closures.

But in the years that I’ve been reporting about what it’s like to live in Pueblo, a city so different than the rest of the Front Range to the north, I’ve tried to write about the people here who are working to make a difference in the city. These are the untold stories that needed to be told on a national level, to show people around the country that you can’t stereotype people by poverty or unemployment statistics.

So I wrote about Rob Archuleta, the addiction and recovery counselor whose sports program helps heroin addicts for Vice and Daneya Esgar, the state house representative I came to know for a story on the shut-down of Planned Parenthood for Dame. I learned that despite Pueblo’s high obesity rates, the city’s health department is on a mission to help people make better choices, in a story for Quartz. And that the Pueblo Mall is still the place many shop, in a piece for the Washington Post.

In the years since I’ve been here, despite the so-called Pueblo problems, the same ones that as a former state hospital and Parkview nurse told me, “made Pueblo come to a screeching halt after so many people lost their jobs at the mill, and made them feel so hopeless” are being challenged. Residents are forming neighborhood watches across the city—from the Blocks to Bessemer to the East Side, Facebook is being used to connect people who might not otherwise know each other, who share the same interest in protecting themselves and fostering strong neighborhoods. State Rep. Daneya Esgar and State Senator Leroy Garcia, both hometown heroes, have regular town hall meetings about Black Hills Energy rates. You see them shopping at Safeway or grabbing dinner at the Irish Pub.

The national media often portray working-class towns like Pueblo, the ones that don’t share in the wealth of boomtowns like Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, and even Colorado Springs, with a black cloud overhead, so heavy that things can’t possibly change.

But they can, slowly. As an outsider, I’ve seen it.

Though drivers still throw out trash out of cars as they speed down Abriendo, there have also been community clean-up days, residential trash service is now a requirement, and the city is picking up the old furniture, mattresses, and beer bottles that used to line Red Creek Road. Local businesses and schools volunteer at transitional and low-income housing so that the families and children there share holidays with the rest of us.

And of course, most recently, teachers are striking, for better pay and better schools. Pueblo is going to choose a mayor for the first time.

In short, people here care. They are tending their community gardens, calling in suspicious houses with people coming and going who they don’t recognize, installing clean-up bags for pets in neighborhood parks, having clean-up days on the reservoir trails, and organizing local artisan shows. They are taking action.

That’s the new narrative to counter the old and why the signs that dot the city that read “Pray for Pueblo” need an adjustment of just one word. Replace “pray” with “pull” and you tell a new story: people who are pulling for their town and working one person at a time to actively change it.

25 by 50: A new series intersecting the voices, people, and stories of Southern Colorado. In 2018, PULP will be taking a look at the region we call home to examine, challenge and highlight what it means to live in this part of the state. We will be asking national writers, journalists, and local voices to start a discussion on what’s been called the “hardest place to live in Colorado.”


Jill Rothenberg is a freelance writer who has written for the Washington Post, CNN, Vice, Forbes, and Runners World, and others. Find her at www.jillrothenberg.com

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Is Colorado’s Grand Valley the state’s next boom area?

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Architect John Sisco and his wife, Pam, are among the most recent arrivals to the Grand Valley in what some say appears to be a population boomlet unlike others that have preceded it.

Formerly an Atlanta-area resident, Sisco was looking for a job and scored an interview with the Blythe Group + Co firm in downtown Grand Junction.

“My mistake,” Sisco joked, “was bringing my wife. She said, ‘This is wonderful.’ ”

Sisco, who moved to Grand Junction in February, arrived on the heels of a population boost, a growth rate of 1.2 percent, or 1,822 people in 2017, according to the Colorado State Demography Office.

What makes this growth phase different is that it seems to be built on more than geezers and gushers — retirees and energy workers.

“The economy is doing a good job of diversifying,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center. “It’s really spread across multiple industries.”

While the county population grew at that 1.2 percent clip, the valley’s labor force grew by 5.5 percent in 2017, from 70,288 to 74,198.

The labor force continued to grow to 74,999 in March, and the unemployment rate tumbled, from 5.8 percent in January 2017 to 4.8 percent this January and to 4 percent in March.

A growing labor force and falling unemployment rate suggests that newcomers are arriving, and finding work, Englehart said.

“We’re seeing a lot of Front Range addresses” on job applications, he said.

Likewise, said Nina Anderson of Express Employment Services in Grand Junction.

“We’ve seen an uptick in the last six months, some professionals, bookkeepers, human resources and health care” as well as entry-level opportunities, Anderson said.

“We’ve seen a marked increase in business,” said Duke Wortmann, a relocation consultant with Mesa Moving & Storage in Grand Junction and a city councilor. “We’re on pace certainly for a record year in my 28 years” with the company.

For the Siscos, the Grand Valley is a win on two counts.

“I wanted my husband to be satisfied,” Pam Sisco said. “The job is doing half of that, and the place is doing the other half.”

It didn’t hurt that “I fell in love with the surroundings,” she said.

To be sure, retirement is on the horizon, Sisco said, but he’s also a construction manager who’s experienced in dealing with significant jobs, such as School District 51’s projects due to begin this summer. His office is covered with plans and drawings for the 30 or so school-related projects that Sisco will oversee this summer.

“I’m an architect,” Sisco said. “And I really like to build things.”

The drawback to Grand Junction so far is a lack of direct flights to various destinations, “but I’m sure in time that will happen,” Sisco said.

Those 1,822 people who moved into Mesa County last year amounted to the 10th largest growth spurt among Colorado counties and Mesa County’s net-migration figure of 1,506 was the ninth largest of any county in the state.

Retirees, most of them from Denver, make up 50 percent of the buyers in the Copper Creek subdivision off 25 Road south of Patterson Road, developer Silas Colman said.

Another significant chunk of buyers, 20 percent, are younger people with no children or very young ones, Colman said.

“They’re not typically relocating, they already have a job here,” he said.

Demand is healthy in Copper Creek, Colman said. His sister, Naomi, Copper Creek’s in-house sales representative, sold 40 houses in four months, he said.

There is a mix of retirees and younger people, many from Denver and California, said greeters with Welcome Home, a greeting service for new arrivals in the Grand Valley. Greeters deal directly with new arrivals, offering information, and collecting some during informal conversations.

“There’s a good number from the Front Range, or from the mountain region, moving to be closer to family or health care,” greeter Hilary McGilton said in an email, “I’ve also noticed that retirees move here because of their grown child’s job, or the job of their son/daughter-in-law. Because of my location of greeting, I would say it’s medical field oriented.”

The apparent recovery fits into the Grand Valley’s general pattern of bust and boom, said John Wishart, owner of All Pro Moving.

“Typically it takes 10 years to recover from a disaster,” such as the recession that began in 2008, Wishart said.

“People are coming here because of the outside activities we have to offer, I’m starting to see it,” Wishart said. “We’re starting to turn that corner, as opposed to people coming here because there’s an oilfield job.”

The turnaround is far from complete, though, Englehart said, noting that the labor force topped 80,000 before shrinking by 14,000 with the recession.

Grand Junction, said new arrival Sisco, “is going to grow whether people want it to or not. I discovered it and I’m not the only guy out there.”

___

Information from: The Daily Sentinel, http://www.gjsentinel.com

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Cannabis for canines? In Colorado, some pet owners see the health benefits for their ailing dogs

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Owners of Aspen, a 12-year-old golden retriever/Australian Shepherd mix have been treating the dog with cannabidiol after the dog was diagnosed with bone cancer and had a leg amputated more than a year ago. (Hugh Carey/Summit Daily via AP)

FRISCO, Colo. — The only signs of aging the 12-year-old golden retriever/ Australian shepherd mix shows are the gray hairs peppered throughout his mostly black coat. He has an obvious limp, but it’s hard to expect anything different for a dog only sporting three legs. The loveable 60-pound mutt named Aspen easily bounces from one room to the next in his Summit Cove home, showing no signs of pain when going from lying down to “sitting pretty” on his hind legs when he expects a treat. Aspen is almost a year past what he was expected to live after his diagnosis with a terminal illness, and other than missing one of his limbs, you wouldn’t be able to tell.

SEARCHING FOR HELP AFTER A DIFFICULT DIAGNOSIS

In this Thursday, March 29, 2018, photograph, Aspen plays with owner Lauren Forcey in Breckenridge, Colo. Forcey and her husband have been treating Aspen, Colo., with cannabidiol since the dog was diagnosed with bone cancer, which required the amputation of one of the dog’s legs. (Hugh Carey/Summit Daily via AP)

About 12 years ago in Denver, Andy Demaline’s roommate came home with a 3-month-old puppy he purchased from the back of a truck in a parking lot. With one dog already, the roommate quickly discovered that he wasn’t able to handle both, and within a week, Demaline had taken the puppy as his own.

Aspen was at Demaline’s side for a move to Florida, back to Summit County, meeting and marrying his wife, Lauren Forcey — he was even in the wedding. Aspen was there when they bought their first house together — all the major life changes that a faithful dog participates in next to his human companion.

So it could only be expected that the couple was devastated when they heard the dreaded word that no one ever, anywhere, wants to hear: cancer. X-rays revealed Aspen had bone cancer in his left leg in December 2016, after he was taken to the vet a couple times for a limp that wouldn’t go away. The vet gave them three options: amputate the leg, amputation combined with chemotherapy or load him up on pain medications and hope for the best. With amputation he was expected to live another three or four months. With pain medication he would probably only see about a month or two. An expensive option, amputation plus chemotherapy gave him the longest expectancy, but it would still only ward off the cancer for maybe a year.

Forcey and Demaline decided on amputation only, the best option to help minimize the dog’s pain, and Aspen had the surgery on Jan. 2, 2017. Demaline scoured the internet for information on pet cancer. One thing he kept coming across was cannabidiol, or CBD, found naturally in cannabis plants. Success stories for both humans and animals for a variety of conditions pushed the couple to pursue the treatment option for Aspen, with hopes that at minimum it would help ease his pain, at best it would slow the growth or even kill cancer cells.

CBD FOR PETS

Cannabidiol is one of the active cannabinoids identified in cannabis that has recently been receiving attention for its therapeutic potential. It lacks the psychoactive effects of THC, which is important when treating pets. Companies are jumping on the CBD bandwagon, routinely offering new products infused with CBD — sprays, oils, edibles, lotions, protein powders, pet treats, lip balm — touting relief from pain and inflammation, seizures, anxiety, nausea and aiding in weight loss.

At Farmers Korner Veterinary Hospital in Breckenridge, veterinarian Denisa Court said she has clients who ask her about CBD for their pets’ ailments almost daily. Her advice depends on the dog’s health and medical problems.

“My opinion is that there are likely medical benefits of CBD products for our patients,” she said. “With more research we can feel confident about their benefits and risks and then incorporate CBD therapy into our patient’s overall treatment plan.”

To date, she said, there are no published scientific studies documenting medical benefits and potential risks of CBD therapy in dogs and cats, although there are two studies currently underway evaluating potential benefits for epileptic dogs not responding to available anti-seizure therapies.

While anecdotally there have been success stories, Court warns that pets respond differently than people to many drugs and some foods, so there is a potential for negative effects when using these products.

While Court will discuss CBD products with clients in more detail if the pet owner expresses an interest, she does not prescribe CBD therapy.

“Legally, as CBD products are schedule I controlled substances, veterinarians working in clinical practice are not allowed to dispense or possess any types of schedule I substances.”

Breckenridge resident Deanna Carew first began using CBD products for a Siberian husky who had gone through two knee surgeries plus a back surgery and had severe anxiety during thunderstorms. She noticed once he was on it his reactions had calmed.

“With the arthritis I can assume he felt better, I think it helped,” Carew said. “With the thunderstorms and anxiety, I know it helped.”

A GROWING BUT UNREGULATED INDUSTRY

Dr. James Gaynor, who specializes in anesthesiology and pain management at Peak Performance Veterinary Group in Frisco, said clients first started asking him about using CBD around 2014.

He felt the potential to help was there, but it was a little dicey because animals have such a low toxic threshold for THC, and many of the oils were alcohol-based. As more hemp-based products became available, he found there was still variability between what was in different products, and even the effects with the same product. This is one reason why he can’t offer his clients advice on dosing instructions. He contacted the manufacturers but ran into roadblocks with companies citing proprietary formulation.

“In the nutraceutical world, there’s a problem because there’s not much oversight. what they say is on the label, may not truly be what’s in it,” he said.

Frustrated that he couldn’t give his clients a definitive answer on what products are best for their pets, he created his own CBD product in 2017 called Peak Therapeutics.

“From a pain management perspective. there is a relationship to the mechanism of action that is similar to opioids, narcotics,” Gaynor said. “They work through different receptors, but those receptors work through the same signaling system. So there’s no surprise they can produce good pain relief.”

Gaynor typically uses CBD as an adjunct to other pain relievers and anti-inflammatories.

“In my world, its role is second or third tier,” he said.

Gaynor cautions that veterinarians have to be careful not to give pet owners false hope with a new product that they don’t know much about.

“I always tell people, this is not the silver bullet,” Gaynor said. “This isn’t the magic cure for everything. It has the potential to do a lot of things. . It’s just going to take time to figure all of that out.”

NOT ALL CBDS ARE CREATED EQUAL

Veterinarians Court and Gaynor both stressed the importance of choosing the right CBD product.

“There are tests performed by the FDA that have found many products did not have the amount of CBD that they claimed were in the product and some products had no CBD detected at all,” Court said.

It’s important to purchase a hemp-based product over one created with marijuana, but hemp can be grown in areas where there is soil contamination. What pet owners need to look for, Gaynor said, is if a company can provide a laboratory analysis of what is in the product.

Steve Smith, president and co-founder of Pet Releaf — a company based in Littleton, Colorado, that creates CBD products for pets — said the hemp plant is a bioaccumulator, which means it sucks everything from the soil into the plant. Some countries use hemp plants for phytoremediation — to pull toxins and contaminants from the soil.

Smith, who started the company in the early days of CBD products six years ago, recommends pet owners purchase items from a pet store over a dispensary, and spend some time researching the product.

“The number one thing people should ask is where was the hemp grown, and can you prove it,” he said.

A MIRACULOUS RECOVERY

Forcey and Demaline started Aspen on CBD treatments right after the surgery to amputate his leg, along with the additions of flax seed and turmeric supplements and a slight diet change. While they have no way of knowing for sure whether the product has helped his pain or done anything to treat the cancer, they do know they have been given almost an entire year of additional time with Aspen.

On April 2 — 15 months after amputation — the couple took Aspen to the vet and had an X-ray done on his chest and remaining front leg to check for cancer. They all came back clean — Aspen is cancer free.

They’ve decided to leave Aspen on the CBD treatments, and have also decided to start giving CBD oil to their other dog, Sammy, for her arthritis.

“While we would love to know how and why we’ve had so much extra time with Aspen, I don’t think anyone can definitively say why that is,” Forcey said. “Perhaps the cancer was caught in time and fully removed from his body when they amputated his leg with the tumor. Maybe the CBD/THCa (inactive THC) really did clear the cancer out of his system after the surgery, or maybe his genes were strong enough to do the work.

“However, I am quite sure that the CBD has allowed him to stay comfortable and relatively pain-free throughout his recovery and has kept him the happy, lovable guy that we’ve always known.”

___

Information from: Summit Daily News, http://www.summitdaily.com/

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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