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Denver Judge Frees Violent Criminal, Now Suspect Accused Of Murder

DENVER (CBS4)- A CBS4 Investigation has learned that a 19-year-old Denver man arrested this week for a murder in Sheridan had just recently been released from prison over the strenuous objection of Denver prosecutors.

"This is the worst possible result," said Lynn Kimbrough, a spokesperson for the Denver District Attorney's Office.

Sheridan Police and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation arrested Christopher Rodney, an admitted gang member, jailing him on a murder charge. Rodney is one of three suspects jailed in connection with the murder of Jeffrey John Wallace, 47, who was found dead Monday morning in his Sheridan home. Police theorize Wallace was killed over a marijuana deal.

CBS4 has now learned that Denver Police arrested Rodney in 2009, charging him with a vicious, random beating and robbery. It was a crime that landed him a 6 year prison term but a Denver judge released him in just 4 months.

Rodney confessed to the Nov. 8, 2009, assault on a man who had just gotten off an RTD bus at a downtown bus stop.

"What I did was very stupid," wrote Rodney. "I take full accountability for what I have done."

A videotape obtained by CBS4 shows Rodney and a second suspect attacking their victim from behind at the Denver bus stop, pummeling him with fists and feet until the man lost consciousness. Rodney stole the man's cell phone.

"To come up from behind, and knock him unconscious and continue -- it was over the top," said Kimbrough.

On June 1, 2010, court records show Rodney pleaded guilty to robbery and assault for the 2009 case. Citing the extreme violence and the random nature of the crime, Denver prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Rodney to 8 years in prison.

Edward Bronfin (credit: CBS)

Denver District Court Judge Edward Bronfin sentenced Rodney to 6 years in prison and agreed to allow him to return to court in 4 months for a sentence reconsideration hearing.

Rodney was back in Bronfin's courtroom Oct. 15, 2010. He had been imprisoned for 4 months of a 6 year prison term. Bronfin decided Rodney had served enough time. The judge cut the inmate's sentence from 6 years behind bars to 3 years probation and Rodney was freed.

A Denver prosecutor vehemently objected to the change in sentence arguing that Rodney should stay behind bars.

"I think we walk away saying it didn't feel like that was the right call but it's the judge's call," said Kimbrough. "The difference between a 6-year prison sentence and a 3-year probation sentence in a case that involved the random violence this case entailed, I think to say we were disappointed would be accurate, maybe an understatement."

The next time the judge and prosecutors heard from Rodney was this week when he was arrested for the murder of Jeffrey John Wallace, 4 months after Judge Bronfin ordered Rodney be placed on intensive supervised probation and released from prison.

"I don't know what the judge's reasoning or thinking was behind the sentence reconsideration. And we're horrified when we see previous defendants come back around under these kinds of circumstances. It's a bad day," said Kimbrough.

Judge Bronfin is refusing to explain his sentencing decision. After CBS4 left a phone message for Bronfin, he had a state judicial public information officer, Rob Mccallum, return the call.

"Judges can't talk about cases," said McCallum. "They can't talk about pending or impending cases. Ethically he's prohibited from doing it."

The only current clue as to what may have swayed Bronfin to release the inmate is a five page letter Rodney wrote to the judge asking for a break.

"I would really like a second chance to live in the society like a regular person," wrote Rodney. "I want to be a regular upstanding citizen in the society that takes care of real responsibilities."

Rodney then went on to lay out a plan for how he would live, work and what he would do if Judge Bronfin released him.

"I am sincerely sorry for all the trouble and problems I caused. So in saying all that I would really appreciate a chance to do what's necessary to change my life and be successful," wrote Rodney.

Harvey Steinberg, a criminal defense attorney, told CBS4 Judge Bronfin is not known for going easy on offenders.

"On some cases I was involved in I was unhappy with what I believed to be the harshness of his sentences. He's not a soft Judge at all. He errs on the side of lengthy sentences," said Steinberg.

Contacted through the Arapahoe County Jail, Christopher Rodney declined to talk to CBS4.

Lynn Kimbrough, the District Attorney's spokesperson, said the questions raised by the CBS4 Investigation merit a response.

"It would be fair for you to go ask those critical questions," said Kimbrough.

Additional Resources

- Click here to read Christopher Rodney's letter to Judge Edward Bonfin.

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