Human Rights Watch has compiled the most comprehensive list to date of children sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) in Colorado. Using data from the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), the Pendulum Foundation of Denver, Colorado, and our own independent research, Human Rights Watch has counted forty-six child offenders serving life without parole sentences in Colorado.33 The actual number may be higher.34 All but one of the forty-six are male. As Figure 7 illustrates, 57 percent of those serving the sentence committed their crimes at the age of seventeen, 22 percent were sixteen, 17 percent were fifteen, and 4 percent (comprising two children) were fourteen years old.
Source: combination of data produced for Human Rights Watch by Colorado Department of Corrections on May 19, 2004; data collected by the Pendulum Foundation in July 2003; and correspondence received on March 3, 2004 and subsequent interviews with a child offender sentenced to LWOP who was not counted by either organization.
As Figure 8 demonstrates, the number of children sentenced to life without parole increased between 1992 and 1997. In subsequent years, the number of children sentenced per year has varied widely. Given the relatively small number of children involved and the lack of complete data on child offenders who received sentences other than life without parole during these years, it is difficult to draw any conclusions about whether the percentage of life without parole sentences imposed increased or decreased as compared with the total number of child offenders sentenced for serious crimes. Comparing the data in Figure 8 with those in Figure 5, however, it is apparent that the number of children sentenced to life without parole is a small fraction of the total number of child offenders tried in adult court and sent to prison.
Source: Data produced for Human Rights Watch by Colorado Department of Corrections on May 19, 2004.
Relative to their proportion in the states population of children, blacks constitute a disproportionately large percentage of children sentenced to life without parole.35 As shown in Figure 9, 4.4 percent of all children in Colorado are black, whereas black children make up 26 percent of those serving life without parole. Conversely, 70.9 percent of children in Colorado are white, and yet they make up only 29 percent of the children serving life without parole.36
Human Rights Watch was unable to locate youth criminal justice data for Colorado that would enable further analysis of the racial disparity among child offenders sentenced to life without parole. We do not know, for example, the relative proportion of serious crimes committed by children of different racial categories in Colorado; nor do we have data on whether children from racial minorities are transferred to adult court at different rates or sentenced to life without parole more frequently than white children charged with similar offenses. Nationwide, black children receive harsher treatment in the criminal justice system than white children accused of comparable offenses, including more frequent trial in adult court.37
Source: Combination of data produced for Human Rights Watch by Colorado Department of Corrections on May 19, 2004; data collected by the Pendulum Foundation in July 2003; and correspondence received on March 3, 2004 and subsequent interviews with a child offender sentenced to LWOP who was not counted by either organizationcompared with 2000 U.S. census data on the race of youth between the ages of ten and seventeen in the state of Colorado.
Through personal interviews and correspondence, Human Rights Watch has been able to obtain details about the crimes and lives of twenty-four youth offenders sentenced to life without parole as summarized in Figure 10.
As Figure 10 indicates, two-thirds of the convictions were for murder. The remaining third of the convictions were for felony murder (cases in which the child offender did not personally kill anyone but played a role in a robbery or other dangerous felony in which an accomplice killed someone). Most crimes involved the use of guns. All but two of the youth offenders committed their crimes with other teenagers or adults. Most of the youth had never broken the law prior to the offense that led to their life without parole sentence. That is, their first offense put them behind bars for the rest of their lives. Only three of the twenty-four had ever been previously convicted of a violent juvenile crimeassaults in all three cases.
Figure 10: Backgrounds of 24 child offenders sentenced to LWOP
Source: Combination of data produced for Human Rights Watch by Colorado Department of Corrections on May 19, 2004; data collected by the Pendulum Foundation in July 2003; correspondence received by Human Rights Watch from youth offenders in February through October 2004 and subsequent in-person interviews with child offenders sentenced to LWOP.
There is no readily apparent pattern to the lives of the youth offenders who were sentenced to life without parole. Their family lives and economic situations were varied. Some were economically poor, and others were middle class or even wealthy. Three had lived in juvenile detention centers, a few struggled with drug addiction, and one third were involved in gangs. Some came from apparently nurturing and non-abusive families and three others told Human Rights Watch that they grew up in violent, abusive households. Most strikingly, the stories of the youth we interviewed reveal how relatively normal most of their lives were. There was nothing to predict that their adolescent rule-breaking and boundary-pressing would result in deadly crime.
One third of the individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch committed gang-related offenses. Several of the young people admitted to being directly involved in gangs, to dealing drugs, to living the gang life38and they explained that those activities led to the crimes for which they were charged. One young man who was seventeen at the time of his crime wrote, I was not in school nor living at home. I was out in the streets running wild with no respect for human life, I was very deep into gang activity. I was just living with no purpose and no direction at all.39 In all cases, the gang-related crimes were burglaries or robberies that went wrong, resulting in a first degree murder or felony murder charge. In one other case, a youth was involved in the drive-by shooting of members of a rival gang. Two child offenders who were fifteen at the time of their crimes were not in gangs but they told Human Rights Watch that they were not interested in school, and hung out with the wrong crowd.40
The following vignettes offer some details about the life situations and crimes committed by youth in Colorado who are now sentenced to life without parole.
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Samuel M. was convicted in November 1996 of felony murder for attempting, at the age of fourteen, a burglary during which an elderly woman was killed.41 He was convicted of felony murder because the prosecution did not prove Samuel had actually committed the murder or that he definitely was alone during the commission of the crime. He had no prior criminal record, although he had previously been found delinquent for underage drinking.
When Human Rights Watch interviewed Samuel in 2004, he maintained his innocence.42 According to Samuel, he and his grandfather had worked for the murder victim doing odd jobs and house painting and he may have touched a basement windowleaving fingerprints on it. However, an appeals court rejected the idea that Samuels fingerprints were placed on the window when he painted the victims home.43 A prosecution fingerprint expert testified that some of the fingerprints were in arrangements such that they were likely caused by Samuel gripping broken pieces of glass; and that while it was impossible to ascertain how long his fingerprints had been on the window, fingerprints are fragile, easily destroyed and do not last indefinitely. The appeals court also decided that the discovery of the probable murder weapons in a culvert midway between the victims home and Samuels grandparents home bolstered the fingerprint evidence. In a letter to Human Rights Watch, Samuel explained what his life was like at the time of his crime:
I was about to enter the ninth grade and be a freshman in junior high school. . . . I played baseball for the city and the year before I made the Greeley Allstar baseball team for B Prep Babe Ruth Little League. . . . I would play outdoors a lot with my friends, sports and ride bikes. I played video games at home and out a lot and collected sports cards. Sometimes I would drink alcohol and smoke marijuana and do acid with my friends. . . . My family was strict about school, I had to keep my grade average above a C level and do all my school work and behave well. I went to church and to church youth group.44
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Trevor J., who had several previous convictions on minor charges of drug and alcohol use, was convicted of felony murder in July 1997. The crime occurred when he was seventeen. According to Trevor, the murder occurred during a robbery that went bad. Trevor had attempted the robbery to get money to support his drug habit. He explained to Human Rights Watch that he and another boy had developed a scheme to con another teen out of money under the pretense of selling him a gun:
The plan was for me to meet the victim in Denver. I would give him the gun, he would give me the money, and then I would get the gun back from him under the pretext of showing him how to determine when the gun has a bullet in its chamber. After getting the gun back, me and my co-defendant would simply leave with the money and the gun. The events happened exactly as planned until we left. As I was leaving, I waved the gun at the victim and told him not to tell anybody about this. Horrifically, as I waved the gun, it accidentally went off and I shot the victim in the side of his head. He died around an hour and a half later.45
Human Rights Watch was unable to examine trial documents to determine whether additional evidence was introduced supporting Trevors claim that the death was accidental. Trevor turned himself in the day after the crime occurred. He said he knew how horrible my crime was and I felt a lot of guilt about it.46 In a letter to Human Rights Watch as well as in our interview with him, Trevor emphasized that he had been a mess at the time of the crime:
My life situation at the time of my crime was not great but not aweful [sic] either. I was more messed up than my situation. My family was clearly dysfunctional though. I was a heavy drug and alcohol abuser and had been for a few years prior to this crime. I was not in school as I was expelled a number of times and after I turned seventeen truancy courts no longer had legal involvement in my school situation. I really was a mess, I had several convictions of minor charges in my teen years concerning fights and drug and alcohol abuse, etc but never went to jail as I only received fines. I did still live at home (however, a few hours before my crime occurred my mom spoke with me about maybe needing to find another place to live) and had many opportunities. I was just out of touch with reality and didnt know how good I had it and how I could have really done something with my life in light of the advantages and opportunities I had.47
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Andrew M. was sentenced to life without parole in July 2001 for a felony murder committed when he was fifteen. He had one previous juvenile conviction for fighting with another youth. He was living at home with his mother and younger brother at the time of the crime.
The details of the crime for which Andrew was convicted are not clear; indeed, the evidence is contradictory as to Andrews exact role in the crime. Defense counsel argued that while he was at the scene of the crime, and may have touched one of the guns at some point in time, he did not shoot at the victim.48 What is clear is that Andrew, with two other youth, intended to steal a car. Two guns were fired during the attempted robbery, killing the cars driver. There was some evidence that Andrew may have fired one of the guns. Andrew was convicted of felony murder, which only required proof that he had participated in the attempted robbery.49 In an interview, Andrew told Human Rights Watch what his life was like before his crime:
I played basketball and football for the boys and girls club. . . . Im really into the model rockets, building model cars, Im really into hot rods and low riders. My dad and a couple of my uncles, they worked on their cars, and I kinda got some little tips from them and that was a pretty cool experience. . . .
Me and my mom, we cant get any closer. Its hard to put into words, but my father is an alcoholic and he used to beat her and I used to watch that. After time went on I would step in and take the beating for my mom so as time went on we always had that real close bond.
At that time, I liked to go to school, but I was blind. I couldnt see. I was too much into the streets, partying, doing drugs, and stuff like that. Back then I didnt care what was going on in the world, with other families, other people. But now, I look at like all them kids in Africa and all the kids with cancer, it really hurts me to see that. Now that Ive been locked up, I can see their pain. Like whats in my mothers eyes when she comes to see me through the glass. It really tears me up.50
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Raymond C. was from an upper-middle-class background, and was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life without parole in January 1996 for a crime he committed when he was seventeen. Raymond told Human Rights Watch that he and two friends were driving around Durango, Colorado one night looking for a way to get some money to buy drugs. According to Raymond, he just went along for the ride. They eventually stopped two Native American girls who had just been given coming of age money by their tribe. During the robbery a situation broke out. Some shots were fired; one of the girls was killed and the other seriously wounded. Raymond claims, I never touched a weapon. I never handled a weapon.51
Raymond told Human Rights Watch that at the time of the crime there were no problems at home. I lived with my dad, my parents were divorced . . . even though my parents are divorced, they get along.52 Raymonds father told Human Rights Watch what his son was like at the time of the crime, I have the feeling he was going into the drugs and all that, he was a kid. But I always checked his car, there were never any weapons in there or drug stuff . . . To kill somebody, to hurt somebody, especially a girl? No way.53 His mother said:
He had dyed his hair blond and just re-painted his bathroom. He was working hard at his job and he loved snowboarding and skiing. He kept a collection of beer cans from around the world. His father and I used to bring him back empty cans from Israel and other places we traveled. He kept the cans lined up on his bedroom window, like any teenage boy would. . . . They used that against him in court!54
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Not one of the crimes committed by the youth described in the above vignettes or by other child offenders who received life without parole can be excused. Some of the crimes appear calculated, some show utter recklessness, and some are almost incomprehensible. Some of the victims were strangers, some were acquaintances, and some were family members. But whatever the circumstances of the crime and the identity of the victim, all of these crimes were committed by teenagers.
Neither Colorados DOC nor the Pendulum Foundations data collections were complete. DOC missed ten offenders on Pendulums data collection, and Pendulum missed four that were included in the DOC data. In addition, Human Rights Watch was able to locate one additional child offender not counted by either organization through correspondence received on March 3, 2004, an in-person interview, subsequent interviews with his mother, and independent press sources.
Since the DOC data missed ten cases tracked by the Pendulum Foundation, and Pendulum is not sure that they have identified all child offenders serving life without parole, and Human Rights Watch located one offender not counted by either organization, the numbers presented may be an undercount.
 Human Rights Watch has data on the race of 39 of 46 of the youth offenders sentenced to life without parole in Colorado.
 In order to produce this comparison, Human Rights Watch compared a static measurement (the 2000 census) of the racial make-up of Colorados population between the ages of ten and seventeen with a time series sample of forty-six children sentenced to life without parole across time. There are inherent difficulties in comparing a static sample with a time series sample, which are partially ameliorated by the fact that Colorado has not experienced a marked rise in the population of any particular race between the census of 1990 and that of 2000 (excluding those of Hispanic origin, who were not counted by the 2000 census).
 See. e.g, Eileen Poe-Yamagata and Michael A. Jones, And Justice for Some, Building Blocks for Youth Initiative for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 2000, available online at: http://www.buildingblocksforyouth.org/justiceforsome/jfs.pdf, accessed on February 1, 2005. (finding that youth of color are overrepresented and receive disparate treatment at every stage of the juvenile justice system); Mike Males and Dan Macallair, The Color of Justice: An Analysis of Juvenile Adult Court Transfers in California, Justice Policy Institute, Building Blocks for Youth Initiative, February 2000, available online at: http://www.buildingblocksforyouth.org/colorofjustice/coj.pdf, accessed on February 1, 2005, (showing that youth of color are 8.3 times more likely than white youth to be sentenced by an adult court to imprisonment in a California Youth Authority facility); Jolanta Juszkiewicz, Youth Crime/Adult Time: Is Justice Served? the Pretrial Services Resource Center, Building Blocks for Youth Initiative, October 2000, available online at: http://www.buildingblocksforyouth.org/ycat/ycat.html, accessed on February 1, 2005, (showing over-representation and disparate treatment of youth of color in the adult system and questioning the fairness of prosecuting youth as adults).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Paul L., Buena Vista Correctional Facility, Buena Vista, Colorado, May 27, 2004.
 Letter from Oscar B. to Human Rights Watch, Sterling, Colorado, March 4, 2004 (pseudonym).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Donnell C., Colorado State Penitentiary, Cañon City, Colorado, July 27, 2004; and Human Rights Watch interview with Gregory C., Colorado State Penitentiary, Cañon City, Colorado, July 26, 2004 (pseudonym).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Samuel M., Colorado State Penitentiary, Cañon City, Colorado, July 26, 2004.
 Letter from Samuel M. to Human Rights Watch, Colorado State Penitentiary, Cañon City, Colorado, March 10, 2004. The prosecutions theory in the case is that whoever murdered the victim entered her home by breaking a basement window. Samuels fingerprints were on the glass pane, and this was considered crucial evidence of his guilt.
 Colorado v. Mandez, 997 P.2d 1254 (Colorado Ct. of Appeals, Div. 2, November 12 1999).
 Letter from Samuel M. to Human Rights Watch, Colorado State Penitentiary, Cañon City, Colorado, March 10, 2004.
 Letter from Trevor J. to Human Rights Watch, Limon Correctional Facility, Limon Colorado, March 1, 2004. Human Rights Watch also interviewed Trevor in person in May 2004 at Limon Correctional Facility, Limon, Colorado. His account was partially corroborated by a contemporaneous newspaper article. See Metro Digest, The Denver Post, November 28, 1996 (stating Police said Foley (the victim in the crime), a Bennett High School football player, had driven into the Denver area apparently to see about buying a gun. Police said the gun went off and Foley was shot in the head.).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Trevor J., Limon Correctional Facility, Limon, Colorado, May 2004.
 Letter from Trevor J. to Human Rights Watch, Limon Correctional Facility, Limon Colorado, March 1, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Thomas Carberry, Esq., Andrews appellate attorney, December 28, 2004.
 The evidence and legal theories contained in this vignette are summarized from defendants appellate brief, which is on file with Human Rights Watch. All statements summarized here were cited to the transcript of the original trial. See also Erin Emery, Teens Charged as Adults in Students Gun Death, Denver Post, July 23, 1999.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Andrew M., Colorado State Penitentiary, Cañon City, Colorado, July 26, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Raymond C, Centennial Correctional Facility, Cañon City, Colorado, July 27, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Frank C., Colorado, October 22, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Judy C., Colorado, October 22, 2004.