Chris Outcalt | Longreads | December 2017 | 16 minutes (4,461 words)
On a warm, sunny morning in November 2016, a few dozen people packed a county courtroom about 20 miles northeast of Denver, Colorado. Of the cases on the docket that day in Brighton, a working-class city of 34,000 situated amid the state’s plentiful oil and gas fields, one in particular drew the crowd: a hearing to determine the fate of Giselle Gutierrez-Ruiz, a 37-year-old man who’d been sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in a fatal highway shooting in 1997.
On that night nearly 20 years ago, Gutierrez-Ruiz, a kid in a strange country, left a dance club north of Denver around 10:30 p.m. He drove someone his older brother knew south on Interstate 25, the main north-south thoroughfare through the city. A few miles down the road, near the city limit, the passenger pulled out an Uzi and fired at cars on the highway, killing one person. Gutierrez-Ruiz didn’t learn a man had died that night for another eight days; he then cooperated with police, helping them catch the actual shooter. Nevertheless, even though he was a juvenile, he was charged as an adult and convicted for his complicity in the crime, which at the time carried a mandatory life sentence. I reported on Gutierrez-Ruiz’s case for several months throughout the summer and fall of 2015, and I attended his resentencing hearing. Like everyone else there, I was anxious to learn his fate.