COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- 13 Investigates is diving deeper into the early release of a man now charged in connection with running over a parole officer, allegedly hitting and killing her with his car last week. Our calculations reveal Justin Kula, 41, served 53 percent of his court-ordered four-year sentence before being granted parole.
Kula was previously convicted of three felony crimes: stalking, attempted extortion, and attempted assault on a police officer.
El Paso County Judge Frances Johnson sentenced Kula to four years in prison in the stalking case, and two years each for the extortion and assault on a police officer cases. Judge Johnson ordered Kula to serve all of his sentences concurrently not consecutively, meaning his parole eligibility is equated by his longest sentence, not all three added up.
The Colorado Department of Corrections told 13 Investigates that Kula was granted parole, or early release from prison, on Feb. 15, 2023, after only spending one year and three months in prison on a court-ordered four-year sentence.
According to court records, Kula also had 320 days of credit for time served in the El Paso County Jail while he was awaiting a potential trial in all three of his cases. Based on our team's calculations, Kula served 31 percent of his sentence without the credit for time served, and 53 percent when it is factored in.
13 Investigates spoke with former elected 18th Judicial District Attorney, George Brauchler, who says he's seeing more and more people granted early release because of an effort by state lawmakers, the prison system, and judges across the state to not send as many people to prison.
"I think a big push of this is a change in ideology. I think the judiciary gets a ton of pressure from the Department of Corrections," Brauchler said. "They get the signals from the legislature that everybody is looking to keep people out of the Hoosegow and the Graybar Hotel as much as possible for as long as possible."
Brauchler says Colorado's "sentencing laws" are incredibly misleading, largely because of judges' proclivity to order concurrent sentences and not consecutive sentences. He says this leads to victims believing that someone like Kula, who was sentenced to eight total years on three felony crimes, will actually have to spend eight years in prison.
"If you're convicted of a non-crime of violence, felony stalking is a non-criminal felony, you're supposed to serve 50 percent of your sentence before you're parole-eligible," Brauchler explained. "But that's fake too because calculated within that are things like good time, earned time, got your GED time, didn't shank your inmate time. All of those things add up to make the real number about 31 percent of a sentence."
The former republican DA called the death of Parole Officer Christine Guerin Sandoval "not unforeseeable," because he believes folks on parole do not want to go to prison and will take steps to ensure that doesn't happen, including breaking the law again.
"We all say it was preventable, but it's going to happen again," Brauchler said.
13 Investigates reached out to the Colorado Parole Board, the board that allows people sentenced to prison time early release. At the time of publication, they have not responded to our request for comment on why Kula was offered early release. All members of the parole board are appointed by Colorado Governor, Jared Polis.