Murphy: Colorado legislator nurses old grudge against justice – The Denver Post

In 2001, the teen son of now-state Rep. B.J. Nikkel pointed his car at a Larimer County sheriff’s deputy and drove, tossing the deputy across the hood before he drove toward a second deputy, who opened fire to stop the car.

At the time, Nikkel complained to the Loveland Reporter-Heraldnewspaper that prosecutors coerced a plea from her 16-year-old son in juvenile court by threatening to file adult charges against him in the case, though there is no evidence prosecutors made any such threat.

This matters because today Nikkel is acting on that long-held grudge against district attorneys, and we could all pay the price.

Nikkel is the motivating force behind getting Republicans to support a bill that would require judges to approve prosecutors’ decisions when even the most-violent juvenile teens are charged as adults.

Though nearly every prosecutor and police officer in the state opposes this change to a “direct file” law that currently works well, the House passed the bill Monday with a substantial 45-20 margin. Nikkel, of Loveland, managed to persuade 16 fellow Republicans to vote yes, taking a position that could reduce the punishment for teens who commit serious crimes. Now, it is in the hands of the Senate.

“I approach all legislation that I sponsor and vote on with the heart of a mother, and I do so unapologetically,” Nikkel said in a statement issued through the Republican House office this morning. “This isn’t about my child as much as it is about all Colorado youth.”

The Weld County district attorney’s office was appointed as special prosecutor in the case of Nikkel’s son. The teen eventually utilized a device called an Alford plea to resolve a juvenile count of second-degree assault. It meant he did not contest the charge but wasn’t admitting guilt either. The DA left punishment up to the judge, who sentenced the boy to probation.

No one I spoke with who was at the Weld DA’s office at the time can recall any, even preliminary, discussion of using the direct-file statute to charge Nikkel’s son as an adult. The first person it seems who ever mentioned the possibility was Nikkel.

“They have to know that they can’t misuse the system and they are not above the law,” Nikkel said at the time of the deputies her son challenged that night. She also alleged that Weld prosecutors threatened to charge her son as an adult to get him to take a plea deal.
Coloradans want their legislators to work part time and to bring their life experiences to the Capitol with them. Nikkel certainly has, even explaining her son’s history to her co-sponsor on the bill, Denver Democrat Beth McCann, as her reason for pushing the issue.

McCann, a thoroughly rational legislator with no interest in making our community less safe, also draws on her life experience to support the bill. As a prosecutor in Denver prior to 1993, when DAs got the authority to direct-file adult cases against juveniles, McCann said she regularly participated in “transfer hearings” where judges decided whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult.

“To me, it was part of the process,” McCann said. “I didn’t think it tied the hands of the prosecutors.”

Another legislator has brought her life experience to the bill too.
Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, were shot and killed in 2005. Marshall-Fields was killed because he was going to be a witness against a local drug dealer and small-time gangster. The killer and accomplices were eventually caught, and two are on death row.
Marshall-Fields’ mother, Rhonda Fields, is now a Democratic state representative from Aurora. She brings her son’s assassination to work with her every day.

“I think it does impact my thinking,” she said. “The DAs in my son’s case understood the issues involved. They know what they are doing. I just don’t see any evidence that they abuse this system the way it is.”
She voted “no.”

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