Top cop takes fire for transfer of eventual killer
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers is taking some heat for allowing a would-be FBI informant into the state who later killed four people.
The issue centers around Scott Lee Kimball, who at the time of his 2002 transfer from Alaska to Colorado was facing a counterfeiting charge.
The FBI wanted to use him as an informant in a possible plot to kill a federal judge in a case that ultimately never went anywhere. Still, he was transferred to an Englewood federal prison based on fears his life was in danger from fellow inmates because he was cooperating with FBI agents.
Less than a year later, he was activated as an FBI informant and released from prison despite being wanted in Montana for escaping from prison on a 10-year sentence for writing bad checks.
At that time, Suthers, a Republican, was U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado. He signed the transfer order bringing Kimball to the state, something his Democratic challenger for the office, Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, called an irresponsible thing to do.
It was Garnett’s office that ended up prosecuting Kimball for murdering four people, including his own uncle. Kimball was sentenced to 70 years in prison.
Suthers said that while the entire Kimball saga was tragic, he can hardly be blamed for bringing an FBI informant to the state whom no one knew would turn out to be a serial killer so soon afterward.
Suthers, who served as U.S. attorney from August 2001 until January 2005, when he was appointed Colorado attorney general, said he didn’t remember signing the “Rule 20” transfer order and had no personal involvement in the case that Kimball was working on with the FBI.
“The signing of the Rule 20 order doesn’t say anything about the case. It just says the guy’s being transferred from the District of Alaska to the District of Colorado,” he said. “I’d get about 60 (such orders) a year, five or six a month.”
Suthers said the procedure for how such a “routine” transfer order works is, the FBI would talk to an assistant U.S. attorney and persuade that person of the need to move someone from one district to another.
That prosecutor, then, would approve or reject the idea, but it’s ultimately up to the U.S. attorney — in this case, Suthers — to give the final nod.
“But because the guy had nothing but check fraud and forgery and stuff like that, it simply would not get a whole lot of attention,” Suthers said. “These sorts of things are done all the time. I’m sure there was nothing known to the FBI or to the assistant U.S. attorney working on this” about Kimball’s murderous intentions.
“The fact of the matter is that a large U.S. attorney’s office or a large prosecutor’s office, the guys at the top probably are involved in 2 to 4 percent of the plea bargains and stuff like that,” Suthers added. “All these things go on. But when you’ve been running large public offices like I have for 18 years, sometimes situations like this that you weren’t involved in go sour and they look bad.”
Soon after his transfer to Colorado, Kimball agreed to a plea deal that got him released from prison. A month later, he killed his first victim.
Garnett said the real tragedy is that neither Suthers nor his assistants examined the case closely enough before signing the order.
In the course of prosecuting Kimball in 2009, Garnett worked a deal with him to locate the bodies of three of his victims in exchange for one murder charge, rather than four. The remains of a fourth victim, Kaysi McLeod, were found in Routt National Forest in 2007.
Early last year, Garnett’s prosecutors, Kimball and other law enforcement officers stayed in Grand Junction, using it as home base to find the three bodies. Only LeAnn Emry’s body was found during that trip. Kimball buried her in Bryson Canyon, Utah, two hours west of Grand Junction.
Kimball had murdered her in early 2003, just a month after Suthers signed the order.
Police still are searching for Kimball’s third victim, Jennifer Marcum. His fourth victim was his uncle, Terry Kimball.
Garnett later rescinded his plea deal because Kimball ultimately revealed the locations of only two of the victims.
Though Suthers admitted he has some responsibility in Kimball’s transfer to Colorado, Garnett said it goes much deeper. It shows that an office he ran failed to do its homework about who Kimball was, failed to monitor the situation after setting him free, and kept sealing records in the case afterward, for up to three years.
“It may be that as they got into it that they were concerned ... that they realized they had a real mess on their hands,” Garnett said. “Though they probably didn’t realize there were dead bodies, they didn’t want it to become public.”