Seven years ago, a jury found Farrell Greenlee guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 48 years in prison. This week he walked out of court, for all intents and purposes, as a free man.
Greenlee, 43, pleaded guilty in District Court on Thursday to reckless manslaughter in the December 2003 death of Marcie Stewart-Jacobson. Judge Douglas Walker accepted the plea, giving Greenlee credit for 8 years, 9 months time served. As part of the agreement, Greenlee will spend three years on parole.
Last October, Judge Jeffrey Wilson vacated, or annulled, Greenlee's murder conviction due to "ineffective assistance of counsel," opening the door for the plea.
Specifically, Wilson cited the failure of Greenlee's then-defense attorney, David Greenberg, to call a key witness to rebut the testimony of prosecution witness Calinda Forristall.
At the 2004 trial, Forristall testified that before Stewart-Jacobson was killed, Greenlee had stated he was going to shoot a woman and hide the body where it couldn't be found. She claimed that three others - Randy Matthews, Frank Edwards and Charles Fish - also heard the statement.
Matthews had spoken to police, and while he said he didn't like Greenlee personally and wanted him in prison, told them Greenlee had never made such statements in his presence.
But Greenberg never called Matthews to the stand. In a court order, Walker stated that this omission was a significant mistake that fell below the standards required of competent counsel.
Greenlee has consistently maintained that the shooting was accidental.
On Thursday, Walker asked District Attorney Will Furse and Lynda Carter, assistant district attorney, if the victim's family had been notified of the plea and were agreeable to it.
"She's agreeable," Carter said, referring to Stewart-Jacobson's mother, Opal. "She believes Mr. Greenlee has served his time."
Carter said the DA's office supported the plea agreement because the evidence wasn't sufficient to prove premeditated murder.
"During the investigation, everything we came across pointed to reckless manslaughter," she said.
Carter added that Greenlee seemed to accept responsibility for his poor judgment the night of Stewart-Jacobson's death, and that her family doesn't believe he did killed her on purpose.
Greenlee was remorseful during the hearing.
"It was a horrible, horrible accident," he said. "I agree I acted recklessly."
He continued, "It's important for Marcie's family to know (she) wasn't murdered. Marcie died. I know I was at fault, beyond any doubt."
He said the shot was not fired out of ill-will, but was due to sheer bad luck and foolishness brought on by drug intoxication. Both Greenlee and Stewart-Jacobson had methamphetamine in their system when the incident occurred.
He said he thought the shotgun was broken and unloaded until he heard the shot and saw Stewart-Jacobson's lifeless body. Greenlee recalled that the victim had wanted to see or hold the gun, and while handling it in a drug-induced fog, his finger pushed down inadvertently on the trigger.
"There was no malice, never a harsh word (exchanged)," Greenlee said, calling Stewart-Jacobson a close friend.
"If there was any way to take back (what happened), of course I would," he said.
Walker said he believed Greenlee's remorse was real, but was still bothered by the defendant's behavior after the fatal shot went off. Instead of notifying the police and acknowledging his accidental role in Stewart-Jacobson's death, Greenlee stashed her body in an old refrigerator on his father's 3,000-acre ranch south of Cortez. It was only discovered, more than two months later, after Greenlee sent a cryptic letter to his father alluding to the whereabouts of the body.
Carter described Greenlee as a rehabilitated man. She said he did not cause trouble while in prison, getting only three write-ups in that time - none for violent conduct. She said he was behavior was "stellar" during pre-trial services and all his drug tests came back negative. Before the plea hearing, he had been out of jail on $100,000 bail.
There is one hurdle remaining before Greenlee can walk free. He needs to turn himself in to the Department of Corrections in Denver by April 15 to receive his parole terms. They include periodic supervision and drug tests.
"If you get into any trouble, they can revoke your parole and send you pack to prison," Carter explained.
Greenlee said he is three credit hours shy of an associate's degree in computer graphics and is looking forward to rejoining society.