Colorado parolee, suspect in warden's slaying, dies after Texas shootout

News reports say Evan Spencer Ebel was a parolee from Colorado and the motorist who engaged deputies in Texas in a high-speed chase and shootout on Thursday. The question is whether he also killed Colorado's prisons chief.

Courtesy of Colorado Department of Corrections/Reuters
Evan Spencer Ebel is shown in this undated Colorado Department of Corrections booking photo. Ebel is reported as a suspect in connection to the slaying of Tom Clements, the head of Colorado's prison system.

Police in Colorado and Texas are investigating the connection between a parolee, who has now died after a shootout with Texas police Thursday, and the slaying on Tuesday of Colorado’s state prisons chief, Tom Clements.

The Denver Post, quoting an anonymous Colorado Department of Corrections employee, identified the paroled inmate as Evan Spencer Ebel. Another law enforcement official confirmed to the Associated Press Mr. Ebel’s identity, as well as his connection to a white supremacist prison gang called the 211s, which authorities say may have ordered the killing of Mr. Clements.

These officials identified Ebel as the driver of a black Cadillac with Colorado license plates that was involved in Thursday's high-speed chase and shootout in Wise County, Texas, about 50 miles north of Fort Worth. But neither the El Paso County Sheriff's Office in Colorado, which is investigating the Clements shooting, nor the Wise County Sheriff's Office in Texas, whose deputies engaged in the car chase and shootout, has publicly confirmed that Ebel was their man. The car involved in the Texas incident fits the description of a car spotted near the Clements home the night the warden was killed, according to Colorado law enforcement officials.

Texas deputies wounded the Cadillac driver during the shootout, said Wise County Sheriff David Walker during a press conference Thursday. He was connected to life-support systems at a Fort Worth hospital, but died Friday.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement Thursday saying it "has been in contact with authorities in Texas since the time they were involved in a pursuit and officer involved shooting earlier today.” It has also sent its own investigators to Texas to “get a better sense on whether or not the suspect from Texas is linked to the Clements shooting,” the statement said.

The chase started in Montague County, Texas, after the Cadillac driver, now believed to be Ebel, reportedly shot at a sheriff’s deputy during a routine traffic stop. The driver then fled south at speeds up to 100 m.p.h. and fired shots at vehicles pursuing him. The Cadillac eventually collided with an 18-wheel truck, but the suspect emerged from the accident and continued shooting at deputies.

“He didn’t plan on being taken alive,” Rex Hoskins, the police chief in Decatur, Texas, said during a press conference Thursday. “He was trying to hurt somebody.”

The black Cadillac is the main link between Ebel and Clements’s shooting.

“We don’t know yet exactly whether this is the guy,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told reporters Thursday. “There’s some indication. I hope it is.”

Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alison Morgan said she could not release information on prisoners because of the ongoing investigation into Clements’s death, but legal records show that Ebel had been convicted of numerous crimes in Colorado dating back to 2003, including robbery, menacing, and weapons charges, the Denver Post reported. He was charged with assaulting a correctional officer in 2008.

It's not yet publicly known when Ebel was paroled from Colorado's prison system, but if he turns out to have killed Clements, the case will focus attention on parole and the criteria under which it is granted to prisoners. Nationally, the share of parolees returned to prison within a year of release was 12 percent in 2011, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. This is down from 15 percent in 2006.

But the picture changes with a longer time frame. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2011 found that 4 in 10 parolees return to prison within three years of their release, suggesting that corrections systems “designed to deter [parolees] from continued criminal behavior is falling short.”

At the end of 2011, about 4.8 million offenders were on parole in the US, and 2.23 million people where in state or federal prisons, according the Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 1 in 50 adults was under parole in 2011. The average length of parole is 19 months, and 52 percent of parolees in 2011 completed their terms of probation and were discharged early.

Ebel was in and out of jail for the past 10 years, sources told ABC News. Police are checking his fingerprints and testing weapons found after the shootout to determine whether he is in fact the person who shot Clements on Tuesday, and possibly a pizza deliveryman who was killed in Golden, Colo., on Sunday.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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