Security tight on convict who escaped

Shane Johnson didn’t simply saunter out of Mesa County Jail early the morning of Sept. 9, 2008.

About a week out from receiving a likely life sentence in prison, the then-40-year-old man had a hacksaw blade secretly delivered to him in jail, and he used it to cut away a part of the ceiling. He then shimmied down the building’s outer wall on tied-together bedsheets and made a beeline for a getaway car, his wife behind the wheel.

After fleeing to Mexico, Johnson wouldn’t be back in custody in the U.S. until about two years later. But his actions caught up with him Friday. Johnson, already serving a 105-year prison sentence on unrelated charges, was handed an additional 12-year prison sentence by Mesa County District Judge Richard Gurley.

“I think an additional 12 years consecutive to that is significant punishment,” Gurley said during sentencing.

To keep security tight Friday, only attorneys and law enforcement were allowed inside the courtroom where Johnson was sentenced. Members of the general public could watch the proceeding via a live video feed from a television in another unoccupied courtroom.

Johnson already is serving the start of his triple-digit sentence at Colorado State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison in Cañon City, and his first parole date is in 2046, according to testimony Friday. Prisoners there are in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, with an hour to exercise and bathe.

Johnson was convicted by a Mesa County jury in 2010 on 22 felony counts stemming from a spate of burglaries and car thefts in the summer of 2006.

Several times after being arrested, Johnson was out on bond committing more crimes before police could catch up to him.

According to testimony Friday from Carla Dittman, a inmate-transport coordinator for the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, the agency received information that Johnson wanted to be sent to a medium-security prison so he could try again to escape. Also the Sheriff’s Department believed some gang members who had been seen outside the jail may have been working again to free Johnson. And, Mexican authorities told the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department that Johnson may have been attempting an escape from the jail there, Dittman said.

“He planned to escape again because he didn’t want to go to prison,” Dittman testified.

The whole escape case and Friday’s sentencing should have been dismissed because Johnson was not allowed certain privileges in prison related to not being notified of a pending court hearing, according to a motion filed by Johnson’s public defender, Steve Colvin.

Colvin argued state law requires prison officials to “promptly notify” inmates of a detainer, or a request to appear in court on a pending case. After testimony from a former prison case manager, Gurley ruled that the 94 days it took officials to notify Johnson was not prompt, but the oversight by prison officials did not cause Johnson to be treated with prejudice.

Colvin also argued for the low range of a prison sentence for Johnson because Johnson did not display violence while committing crimes and that adding years onto his client’s lengthy sentence was overkill. He said Johnson requested and still is requesting to receive treatment for drug addictions, but that likely won’t happen in a maximum-security prison.

Johnson could have been sentenced to between four and 24 years on the escape charge.

“At some point we’re imposing numbers out of vengeance,” Colvin said.


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