The Willie Horton Ad Against Ritter

September 24 2006, 8:24 PM
I was watching television late yesterday afternoon when an anti-Bill Ritter ad came on. It completely shocked me that anyone would stoop so low in politics in Colorado. It was reminiscent of the 1988 Willie Horton ad used against then Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. The anti-Ritter ad featured a grieving mother who lost a daughter to a drunk driver and claimed that the driver served only eight months in jail due to a plea bargain approved by Bill Ritter. The ad linked the case to Ritter's plea bargain rate as District Attorney., to give the impression Ritter was soft on crime. The most telling part was that I don't remember hearing Bob Beauprez' name mentioned at all. To me, it was a clear attempt to swift-boat Ritter. So who ran this despicable ad? CBS News reports:
The ad comes from a 527 group called "Coloradans for Justice," but it's really the Trailhead Group. I checked the IRS filing 8871, which shows trailhead executive director Alan Philp as the director of Coloradans for Justice. Trailhead Group was formed by Governor Bill Owens and deep pocketed republicans Pete Coors and Bruce Benson.
Colorado Confidential has been doing a yeoman's job of peeling back the layers of the onion of the Trailhead Group. CBS also says at least one claim in the ad is false.
This claim is false. Town [the defendant] served eight months after sentencing, but she served a total of 15 months of her two year sentence if you include time served from the arrest through trial. As part of the plea agreement, Town was also sent to a residential drug rehab program in Portland Oregon where she spent three years in residential treatment. I spoke to her by phone from her residence in Oregon. She says the plea bargain allowed her to get off drugs, and become a functioning member of society again.
Most cases are resolved by plea-bargains. The already over-burdened criminal courts would buckle under if they weren't. In my experience, cases which are bargained to levels the public views as light usually reflect evidentiary problems with the case. In other words, better to get a conviction and light jail sentence than to risk losing the entire case. Ritter's team responded to CBS about Town case:
The Ritter campaign and the Denver District Attorney's office argue the sentence was reasonable under the circumstances. There were apparently some evidence problems including inconsistent witness statements. The suspect Sheila Town drove away from the scene and wasn't arrested until two days later. By then, any intoxicants she might have used prior to the accident would have left her system. It wasn't clear whether the family that was struck had been walking against traffic. In short there was ample room for a good defense attorney to build a case. The conclusion in the DA's office was that they were not absolutely sure they would win at trial.
That sounds perfectly plausible and legitimate to me. Opponents of the ad swung into action quickly. You can watch the response and learn the facts here. As Bob Beauprez always says, we should hold him accountable. This ad was an attempt to slime Ritter and favor Beauprez. I suggest we hold him accountable for it. Mike Littwin at the Rocky Mountain News has also weighed in on the ad.