DENVER (AP) — Attorney Jack Ebel told Colorado lawmakers two years ago that solitary confinement in a state prison was destroying the psyche of his son Evan.
When Jack Ebel's longtime friend, Gov. John Hickenlooper, was interviewing a candidate for the top prisons job in Colorado, he mentioned the case as an example of why the prison system needed reform. And once Tom Clements took the job, he eased the use of solitary confinement and tried to make it easier for people housed there to re-enter society.
Now authorities are investigating whether Evan Spencer Ebel, who was paroled in January, is linked to the killing of Clements, who was shot Tuesday night when he answered the front door of his home.
The bullet casings from that shooting are the same type as those found at the site of a gun battle Thursday between Evan Ebel and Texas law enforcement officers that ended with Ebel being shot and killed, according to court records.
The car Ebel drove matched the description of the one seen outside Clements' house on the night of his death. Authorities also found a Domino's pizza delivery box in the trunk and a jacket or shirt from the pizza chain. Denver police say Ebel is a suspect in the Sunday killing of pizza delivery man Nathan Leon.
Hickenlooper confirmed his relationship with Jack Ebel to The Denver Post and KUSA-TV on Friday evening, and state records show Ebel donated $1,050 to the governor's 2010 campaign. But there's no indication that Hickenlooper's relationship with the Ebels played a role in the shooting.
Hickenlooper denied having any role in Evan Ebel's parole.
"Although Jack loved his son, he never asked me to intervene on his behalf and I never asked for any special treatment for his son," Hickenlooper's written statement said.
State prisons spokeswoman Alison Morgan said Ebel was paroled Jan. 28 as part of a mandatory process after serving his full prison term. He had most recently been sentenced to four years for punching a prison guard in 2008, according to state records.
Hickenlooper said he never mentioned Ebel's name to Clements or anyone else connected with the prisons system. He said he only heard about the role of his friend's son Thursday night.
"I didn't know Evan was out," said the governor, adding that he called Jack Ebel after being told of the connection. "He was distraught, he was devastated."
Jack Ebel did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.
A federal law enforcement official said Ebel was a member of a white supremacist prison gang, the 211s. The official wasn't authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Colorado officials wouldn't confirm Ebel's membership but placed state prisons on lockdown Friday.
The 211 gang is one of the most vicious white supremacist groups operating in U.S. prisons, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups.
Founded in 1995 to protect white prisoners from attacks, it operates only in Colorado and has anywhere from between a couple hundred to 1,000 members, senior fellow Mark Potok said Friday.
Legal records show Ebel was convicted of several crimes in Colorado dating back to 2003.
Hickenlooper agreed that Evan Ebel was dangerous. "He just had a bad streak," the governor said. "Jack and his wife did everything they could. ... Nothing worked."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi, Kristen Wyatt, P. Solomon Banda, Dan Elliott, Colleen Slevin, Alexandra Tilsley and Catherine Tsai in Denver; Thomas Peipert in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Angela K. Brown in Decatur, Texas.