TO THE EDITOR

By Rick Johnson
March 3, 2001
Sent to The Rocky Mountain News

It seems absurd that a highly professional and conscientious prosecutor can be accused of misconduct for safely and imaginatively causing a self-confessed ax murder to peacefully surrender to authorities.

I'm referring to the surrender of William "Cody" Neal after Jefferson County Prosecutor Mark Pautler posed as a public defender in order to meet one of Mr. Neal's conditions for his surrender to authorities in 1998.

As The Rocky Mountain News article of Friday, March 2, 2001, makes clear, Mr. Neal had been communicating with police and said he would surrender only if a public defender would guarantee him that he could make a telephone call, have cigarettes, and be placed in solitary confinement. Clearly, Mr. Neal feared for his safety during and after his surrender. Clearly, the effort by Prosecutor Pautler and others to facilitate that surrender was, not just in society's best interests, but in Mr. Neal's best interests as well.

The obvious question, of course, is to wonder why authorities simply didn't request the assistance of an actual public defender. As a former investigator for the Jefferson County and Denver County District Attorneys Offices, I know how I would answer that question now and how I would have answered that question at the time. Clearly, such a decision places a third party, someone not involved directly in law enforcement, in harms way. Whatever the actual circumstances of the surrender may have been, the possibility, the real possibility at the time, was that whomever cooperated with Mr. Neal could have been taken hostage, injured, even killed.

Prosecutor Pautler, a skilled and knowledgeable attorney, knew precisely how to comport himself so as to observe Mr. Neal's rights. Sure, Mr. Pautler is a prosecutor, not a public defender, but it is outrageous to believe that he was doing anything in this instance other than defending the public in the most courageous and selfless way.

It's been said in Prosecutor Pautler's defense that the ends justified the means. Actually, in this case, the ends, Mr. Neal's surrender without further violence, required the means, a simple ruse. That strikes me as in keeping with the highest of standards. The misconduct, in my view, is in any other conclusion.

Rick Johnson
Rick Johnson & Associates of Colorado, Inc.
rick@denverpi.com

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