In 1997, it seemed like a good deal. Todd Young, charged with aggravated robbery and facing decades in prison if convicted at trial, would be sent instead to a drug treatment program in Lakewood.
The judge warned him it would be rigorous.
"You know, I've been a district judge for 10 years," he said in court transcripts, "and I've only seen two or three people complete the program that I know about."
Young, then 30, replied that he understood. But in less than two years at Cenikor, he thought, he could kick his cocaine habit and emerge a law-abiding citizen.
"You understand you're agreeing to a 32-year sentence to the Department of Corrections if you don't complete this program?" the judge asked.
"Yes, sir, I understand," he replied.
Within a few months, though, Young was kicked out of Cenikor. In prison, he took healthy-living courses and got treatment for his drug habit. He did well enough to earn a second chance at Cenikor in 2001, but he walked away from it, claiming it wasn't being run right, and returned to prison.
Cenikor's Lakewood program closed in 2004 amid allegations that staffers were sleeping with female clients and that a thrift store run by the program was doing double-duty as a meth lab.
Now 42, Young has completed numerous prison treatment programs twice, and last fall he won what would seem a clear victory. A judge agreed with his lawyer that his 1997 sentence was illegal, citing a higher-court ruling that the law does not allow for suspended sentences with crimes that carry mandatory prison time.
But the decision has left Young in an improbable spot: He's stuck in El Paso County's jail, unable to pay a $300,000 bond. And despite all the courses and rehab programs he's completed, he now faces up to 64 years at trial in March.
Young, a tall man with a goatee, speaks deftly about the bizarre sentencing provisions he's studied in prison. In a video visit at the jail, he seems despondent when asked where he thinks his efforts have gotten him.
"Absolutely nowhere," he answers.
Taking a chance
Patrick Furman, a law professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, says he regularly reads about illegal sentencing decisions when they make it to the state's appeals court. They often arise, he suggests, because of the "unnecessarily confusing and complex sentencing scheme the Legislature has enacted."
According to that scheme, Young, charged with a Class 3 felony, was due for a prison sentence of 4 to 16 years. But his offense is considered a crime of violence, bumping the range to 10 to 32 years.
Because he has multiple felony convictions, going to trial is risky he could be ruled a habitual offender, which would quadruple the upper limit of his original prison range. Hence the 64 years.
Geoff Heim, a former prosecutor who now does criminal defense work in Colorado Springs, says sentences like Young's, with a carrot such as Cenikor dangled under a very big stick, have fallen from favor since the '90s.
"There wasn't a lot of success with these kinds of programs," he says.
Pat Baize, Young's mother, is puzzled by the sentence, since Young's problems stemmed from addiction and since he's completed so many treatment programs.
"If he didn't show me he was bettering himself, I wouldn't go through with it," she says. "I don't know what else he can do in prison."
Baize traces her son's introduction to serious drugs to the time they lived in Vail. Still a teenager, Young started working at the concierge desk in a luxury hotel where tips sometimes came in the form of cocaine.
Young developed a lengthy record in his early 20s, pleading guilty to charges of burglary and assault. In 1990, he picked up a felony motor vehicle theft charge for stealing his mother's car. (Baize says she regrets the charge, but needed her car back so she could get to work.)
After a few good years, Young relapsed in February 1997. High on cocaine, he says, he parked his mother's car outside an apartment building. He walked around the building, became disoriented and then found the idling car of a newspaper-delivery driver.
Though he later pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary, and admitted to carrying a handgun and a knife when he took the car, Young now says he was unarmed and that he went along with the charges only so he could get into treatment.
The May factor
The details are murky, but prosecutors clearly thought that if Young could kick the drugs in Cenikor, he could return to society.
Five years ago, Baize went to a forum sponsored by the district attorney's office and talked with Dan May, who was then the office's second in command. May got involved in the case, and prosecutors eventually agreed to knock 12 years off Young's 32-year sentence.
With that sentence since declared illegal, Young is now starting over. At trial, he could get 64 years; if prosecutors work out a deal, he could get a new prison sentence or go free with credit for time served.
Baize is hopeful now that May, who left the office after losing the 2004 election to become district attorney, has returned as DA, and she plans to call him. May says he cannot comment on Young's case while it's pending.