07/10/2012 10:38 am ET Updated Sep 09, 2012

Will John Suthers' Record Damage Romney's Aspirations?

DENVER - State Attorney General John Suthers is a top candidate on Mitt Romney's short-list to become the nation's top law enforcement official if Romney wins in November, but the record that Suthers has compiled in Colorado could actually damage Romney's presidential aspirations.

This is especially true with critical conservative voters who see Suthers as someone who will say the right things but then abandon his principles behind closed doors.

For example, Suthers soft stance on Obamacare belies his reluctant participation Florida's failed attempt to win a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Affordable Health Care act. Comments like this one gained him the scornful attention a conservative radio blitz aimed at forcing Suthers to join the suit:

"Suthers tells radio host he wants "everybody to have health insurance" but host doesn't ask how he'd achieve it."

His curious reluctance to embrace this pillar of Romney's platform is just one of a number of potentially embarrassing issues Romney may have to confront if Suthers somehow makes it to the top of the list for U.S. Attorney General.

When the serious vetting begins, Suthers also will be hard-pressed to explain:

  • Why he ignored the history of other early-release prison disasters such as "Willie Horton" and freed Scott Lee Kimball, who promptly went on a killing spree of three Boulder-area women and his own uncle;
  • And why Suthers accepted and would not return $11,775 in campaign donations from a group of lenders giving rise to the appearance of a pay-to-play favoritism.

A 'Willie Horton' moment

Victims' families remain enraged at Suthers over the 2002 murders of three Boulder area women committed by a convicted felon released from prison early by Suthers when he was U.S. Attorney for Colorado. First Suthers authorized the transfer of Scott Lee Kimball to Colorado's federal prison in Littleton from Alaska. Then Kimball, a four-time convicted felon with a prison escape already on his record, convinced Suthers and other federal authorities to release him early in exchange for information on a purported murder-for-hire case and illegal drug making in Colorado.

Not long after his release, Kimball went on a killing spree and murdered three Boulder County women, LeAnn Emry, Jennifer Marcum and Kaysi McLeod, and then killed his own uncle, Terry Kimball, all within 20 months. Suthers' early release of Kimball even eclipsed the fiasco of Michael Dukakis's early release of felon Willie Horton, who went on a crime spree that later helped torpedo Dukakis' presidential race against George H. W. Bush.

Suthers, appointed U.S. Attorney by President George W. Bush, denied any personal knowledge of Kimball. He said he simply signed a routine form for Kimball's early release. But Howard Emry, father of murder victim LeAnn Emry, said in a recent interview, "I don't think John Suthers should serve anywhere with the way he treated the Kimball case... His assistant was in court pleading with the judge to let Kimball out. And then Mr. Suthers says he's never heard of the guy. You've got to be pretty naive to believe that."

'Free to Kill'

An award winning Colorado newspaper, the Boulder Daily Camera, devoted a 15-part series, "Free to Kill," to Kimball's release from federal prison by Suthers and the subsequent killing spree.

In 2009, Kimball pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in a plea deal hammered out with prosecutors headed by District Attorney Garnett, the man Suthers defeated in 2010.

Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garrett told the Daily Camera that Kimball's murders should have been prevented by Suthers doing his job:
"The issue here is, were the people involved in making this decision doing their homework, and clearly they weren't. It shows John Suthers is out of touch with ordinary Coloradoans, and it reflects an ongoing failure of good judgment."

Next week: Suthers and "Pay-to-Play" Campaign Contributions, and his scorecard on Obamacare.