Garnett and Suthers take off the gloves in final debate

In their last debate before the election, the candidates for Colorado attorney general lashed out at each other over incumbent Attorney General John Suthers’ administrative approval of a case transfer that ultimately allowed eventual murderer Scott Kimball to be released in Colorado.

Suthers questioned Boulder County D.A. Stan Garnett’s character over campaign advertisements saying that Suthers failed in protecting the people of Colorado and insinuated that Garnett would have likely made the same choice. Garnett said the administration of the Kimball case was a failure of Suthers’ management skills.

“This is political exploitation of a tragedy. It is politics at its very worst. And my management of the U.S. attorney’s office is not responsible for this tragedy,” Suthers said of the advertisement. “I ultimately believe that what you allow your campaign to say about your opponent is a test of character, and Stan I think that you flunk the test. No one but Mr. Kimball is responsible for the death of his victims.”

Stan Garnett

The Denver Post reported last May that then U.S. Attorney John Suthers signed a transfer allowing prison escapee and four-time felon Scott Kimball to have his case moved to Colorado from Alaska. The transfer was requested so that Kimball, who was being jailed in Lakewood after being moved from an Alaskan prison for check fraud, could work with the FBI as an informant.

Kimball is suspected of killing at least four people after his release from jail and has pleaded guilty in Boulder courts to two counts of 2nd degree murder.

Suthers said at the time the story broke that he did not recall the case.

“What these documents show is that not only did John’s office and John personally authorize the release of this guy who had four prior felonies, had been branded a violent person by a Montana court, and had escaped from a Montana prison and had two more pending felonies against him at the time of his release, that not only was he released and immediately started killing people in my county, but then nobody paid attention,” Garnett said during the debate on KHOW‘s Caplis and Silverman show Oct. 29.

“Repeatedly John’s deputies–top deputies–went to court, assured the court that he would be kept on a short leash, that he would be watched, that they would pay close attention and that didn’t happen. Now I am not saying that John or his deputies are personally responsible for actually killing anybody in this situation, but the bottom line is this is public safety. This is what these offices do.”

Suthers scoffed at the claim. He said that his total involvement in the case was to sign a document allowing a “check fraud guy… to be transferred from Alaska to Colorado. That’s it. There is nothing else on the document. That is it.”

Suthers went on to accuse Garnet of unrealistically assuming he would have taken a personal interest in the transfer and would have acted contrary to the desires of the FBI and U.S. prosecutors. “When you are in the U.S. Attorney’s office, you have folks who have 25-30 years as prosecutors…and if they are dealing with a case, as a realistic matter, you are not going to say … to [the chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver,] Jim Allison, ‘No you can’t do that,’ even if you were personally involved in this case.”

Garnett retorted that he was not trying to second guess Suthers’ decision but was instead questioning the handling of the case by Suthers’ office after the transfer. He said however, that he “would have no hesitation…in taking responsibility in saying ‘No, [the transfer] is not going to happen.”

“What I would never do is sweep it under the rug, refuse to talk about it, keep the families from knowing what happened,” Garnett said.

While sparks flew over the Kimball case, the majority of the debate rehashed both sides’ arguments surrounding Suthers’ decision to join in a multi-state lawsuit against the federal health care reform bill.

Suthers, a Republican, stated that his decision to join the lawsuit was a move to protect federalism, while Stan Garnett, a Democrat supporting the law’s constitutionality, called the decision part of a pattern of Suthers’ partisan use of the office.

With the last of Colorado voters casting their ballots today, the debate served as the candidates closing remarks in a trial that will be decided by the people by the end of the night.

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