Defense lawyer Elvin Gentry was walking into the El Paso County courthouse this year as an assistant district attorney was walking out. The prosecutor stopped Gentry to chat about the news that outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter had just commuted the life sentence of one of Colorado Springs' most notorious killers, a woman named Jennifer Reali.
"Did you have a hand in that?" the prosecutor asked.
Gentry, a fixture in state legal circles since 1970, said he did indeed. The other lawyer was incredulous: "Must be nice to have a lawyer stick with you for 20 years."
Though it may have faded from memory for some, it was a case that never went away for Gentry. Reali has remained a presence in Gentry's life. An amiable lawyer cut from the "Matlock" mold, Gentry passed retirement age years ago but has no plans to quit.
"I'm the kind of guy who once a case is closed, after we've done everything we can do, I move on; it's history," he said. "This case has never been history to me. I knew from Day One I was going to do something. I wasn't going to leave a 30-year-old in prison for 40 years."
It was a crime that both horrified and transfixed, capturing national attention in the early 1990s as the "Fatal Attraction" killing. Reali, a pretty born-again Christian, wife of an Army captain and mother of two, had never been in trouble before.
But on Sept. 12, 1990, she ambushed and gunned down the disabled wife of her lover as the victim pleaded for mercy. Reali insisted it was her lover, Brian Hood, who instigated the crime; first seducing her and then, by using Bible verses, convincing her that killing his wife was God's will. Hood, convicted on lesser charges, said Reali acted alone, becoming obsessed with him when he tried to end the affair.
The decision by Ritter to push Reali's earliest possible parole date from 2030 to now pried opened old wounds.
David Moore, a Texas lawyer and brother of Dianne Hood, called Ritter a "gutless coward" in a January interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette. Dozens of readers angrily wrote that Reali should never be free. Moore sent a letter to the parole board that said: "Reali should be given the same forever as my sister."
Still, support for Reali has come from some surprising quarters, much of it quietly gathered over the years by Gentry. In the commutation petition there is a letter from one of the original jurors as well as from Judge Jane Looney, who presided over the trial. Though Looney, now retired, found the crime abhorrent, she wrote that Reali "thought herself to be in love and allowed herself to be influenced by a man whose goal was to use her to kill his wife."
Former neighbors of Dianne Hood said their rage had turned to forgiveness, and the Colorado Springs police officer who first elicited Reali's confession wrote that he believed Hood manipulated her.
Colorado Atty. Gen. John Suthers, who at the time was the El Paso County district attorney overseeing the prosecution of the case, also added his voice — not necessarily in support of early release, but not in opposition either. "In a perfect world [Reali and Hood] would both spend the rest of their lives in prison," Suthers said recently.
He added, though, that he agrees with Ritter that it was unfair for Reali to be sentenced to life in prison when Hood got 37 years and was eligible for release after 12. Hood remains in prison after trying to escape in 1997.
Gentry still remembers first meeting Reali in the El Paso County Jail four days after the shooting. "My job is not to judge you. Other people will do that," he told her. Two trials followed, one in which she was found to be sane and the other in which she was convicted of first-degree murder. The death penalty came off the table early when she agreed to testify against Hood.
Members of the state parole board took up her case last week. On Wednesday, Reali, now 49, met with the board members in Denver and asked to be freed 19 years early. "My crime is horrific," she said, her voice breaking. "I'm sorry. There's nothing in the English language to take away the hurt I've caused."
But in the end, the board was unmoved. Parole denied. She will, however, be eligible again in five years.
When told of the board decision, Gentry, who could not attend the hearing, said he was disappointed but was not going to give up. "I guess we just have to keep on keeping on."
Deam writes for The Times.