08/22/2005

Denver Judge OK's halfway house deal for woman involved in officer shooting

By JON SARCHE
Associated Press Writer

DENVER- A woman once serving life without parole for her role in the 1997 slaying of a police officer will leave prison for a halfway house under a deal approved by a judge Monday.

The judge gave Lisl Auman, 29, a 20-year sentence in community corrections, though she will get credit for the approximately eight years she has served in prison.

Auman pleaded guilty last month to burglary and accessory charges after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in March that faulty jury instructions invalidated her conviction on charges of burglary and felony murder in the death of Denver officer Bruce VanderJagt.

The shooting happened after Auman recruited Mattheus Jaehnig to help her break into a former boyfriend's house to retrieve some of her belongings. Officers chased the two to a Denver condominium complex, where Jaehnig killed VanderJagt and then killed himself.

Before the shootings, Auman had been handcuffed and placed in a patrol car. When she was asked if Jaehnig was armed, she said, "I don't know what you're talking about," according to court documents.

Under Colorado's felony murder law, anybody involved in certain felonies is guilty of murder if someone is killed during the crime or during the flight from it.

Auman's case caught the nation's attention after celebrities including Hunter S. Thompson and Warren Zevon rallied for her freedom. They and other supporters questioned the fairness of the felony murder law, which has withstood challenges in Colorado and other states.

Auman expressed gratitude to the officer's widow, Anna VanderJagt, saying that without her support she probably wouldn't have got out of jail. She also acknowledged she played a role in the shooting, lied to investigators afterward and caused pain for his family.

"I never, ever intended for anyone to be hurt or killed, but regretfully that's what happened," said Auman, who read from a prepared statement. "I will shoulder this burden for the rest of my life."

"By taking responsibility, I hope I can encourage the slow, arduous process of healing," she said.

Anna VanderJagt, who has remarried and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, stood a few feet from Auman while she talked about her difficulty accepting the loss of her husband and starting her life over with her 10-year-old daughter, Haley.

"I had to accept many unpleasant realities. One of the most difficult is that Haley has to grow up without the love and guidance of her father," VanderJagt said as tears came to Auman's eyes. "The only consolation is she now has her very own guardian angel who watches over her and keeps her out of harm's way."

"I believe acceptance is a large part of healing and I'm determined to heal and move forward," VanderJagt told the judge Monday.

Auman will have to spend at least six months at the halfway house before she can try to earn the right to live on her own by regularly reporting to counselors and authorities, officials said.

Her sentence could be reduced based on her performance in the rehabilitation program, city officials said.

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