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Andrew Medina

andrew medina mug shot

A player in a botched carjacking, he was only 15 when he was charged with first-degree murder and imprisoned; now he's serving time at Colorado's maximum-security facility.

It was around 11 p.m. on July 15, 1999, and 17-year-old Kristopher Lohrmeyer had just finished his shift at the Colorado City Creamery, a popular ice cream parlor. He got into his car, which was parked behind the store. A stranger -- Michael Brown, also 17 -- approached him, asking for a ride. Then Andrew (Andy) Medina, 15, and Derrick Miller appeared, demanding his money and car keys. Someone fired a shot through the car's open back window; Kristopher was shot dead.

Michael and Derrick ran away, but witnesses had seen them loitering in the parking lot, and police arrested them about an hour later. The two boys confessed to police during videotaped interrogation sessions that lasted nearly until dawn. They named Andy as the third co-defendant -- and the shooter. Andy's mother, Sandra Medina, refused to let him talk to police.

I know a lot of people, they say you have to do things to change, but I don't think that's true. I think a person's change ... just happens. And it's happened to me. - Jacob Ind

In Derrick's confession, he couldn't even remember Andy's name, repeatedly calling him Anthony. According to the three boys' testimony, they barely knew each other. They had developed a carjacking scheme to make some quick money and headed to Andy's house, where Derrick and Michael later told police they picked up bandanas and a pair of stolen handguns: a .22 caliber pistol and a .357 Magnum. That night, they picked the lot behind the Colorado City Creamery ice cream parlor as the place to carry out their plan.

All three defendants lived mostly on the streets, rarely if ever attended school, and were using drugs. They were held without bail following their arrest, and a judge at a preliminary hearing ruled there was probable cause to charge all three as adults with first-degree murder.

It was at this point that Andy's fate diverged from that of his two co-carjackers. Following a failed attempt to invalidate Derrick's taped confession, his lawyer urged him to plead guilty to second-degree murder for a sentence of 75 years, with the possibility of parole in roughly 35 years. Michael's lawyer struck a similar deal for 70 years. In exchange, both implicated Andy as the one who fired the fatal shot.

Pinning the shooting on Andy was not technically necessary to win a conviction. Under Colorado's felony murder rule, he could be found guilty of first-degree murder for simply participating in a violent felony that led to a death, even if he didn't directly cause the death. But clear testimony about what happened that night bolstered the case against Andy, and it meant prosecutors had no need to offer him a plea deal. Of the three, Andy alone would stand trial on the charge of first-degree murder, which carried a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

FRONTLINE was not allowed to interview Andy because he is now jailed in Colorado's maximum-security prison. However, Human Rights Watch was granted an interview with Andy in 2004. "I knew my charges were very serious," Andy told them. "But then it just hadn't kicked in."

Andy's appellate lawyer told FRONTLINE his first public defender compromised his chances of an acquittal or plea bargain. Realizing she was affiliated with the same church as the victim's family, she helped Andy write a letter of apology for the church's pastor to deliver. The Lohrmeyers turned the letter over to the district attorney, who used it as a de facto confession.

Andy was granted new lawyers, but the letter was still admitted as evidence when he went to trial in May of 2001. During the trial, Derrick testified that Andy had fired the fatal shot through the back window of Kristopher's car. Michael, however, changed his story, testifying that he was the one who'd provided the guns and fired the fatal shot; both he and Andy had gun residue on their hands when they were arrested. Prosecutors responded that this new story was Michael's attempt to avoid being labeled a snitch in jail and that because of the felony murder charge, it wasn't necessary for jurors to be sure that Andy was the triggerman.

After a brief deliberation, the jury found Andy guilty of robbery charges and first-degree murder. A juror told the Colorado Springs Gazette that only half of them thought Andy was the shooter, but the jury was able to convict based on felony murder. Andy and his mother both sobbed when the verdict was announced. "I was devastated, I was crushed," Sandra Medina told FRONTLINE. "It totally changed my life."

Andy is now pursuing an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel, citing the apology letter.

photo of medina

Andrew Medina during a 2004 interview with Human Rights Watch.

For unclear reasons, Andy, who has been in prison for nearly eight years from the time of his first arrest, is now jailed at the Colorado State Penitentiary, the state's "supermax" high-security prison. Andy was transferred to the supermax roughly a year after his sentencing, when prison officials claimed he was the leader of a gang that had started a riot.

Andy explained the sequence of events as best he understands them to Human Rights Watch: "They were doing a routine shakedown of our cell. ... I guess they found some contraband, ... so they end up giving me twenty days punitive [solitary confinement]. I was getting ready to go back in the population. ... All the beds were filled up so they were waiting for somebody to get in trouble, go to segregation, before I could go back out there. Then out of the blue, I'm ready to go, and they serve me ... papers saying, we got confidential information that you're involved with this security group [gang]. ... I didn't understand, you know? It just came out of the blue."

Andy's lawyer says he has no tattoos or gang symbols and that it's ludicrous to think that a teenager could head a prison gang. But when Andy sent a letter asking to involve his lawyer in a review of the transfer decision, he was told no private counsel are permitted to intervene in the process and that its proceedings are confidential.

The state says Andy has not made enough progress to transfer back to a lower-security prison. Over the course of more than four years in the supermax, his lawyer says he's developed twitches and become demoralized. Andy's mother lamented the limits imposed on their visits: "I can't hug him or give him a kiss on the cheek or buy him a pop or a snack or anything, no. He's alive, but it feels like he's not," she told FRONTLINE.

Andy maintains that's he's changed a lot since the carjacking, that he now steers clear of drugs, and that if he is ever freed, he'd like to work with at-risk youth. "If you'd known me back then," he told Human Rights Watch, "[I was a different] person -- just the way I talk and the way I am -- the way I carry myself. I don't know, maybe it's just what I've experienced. I know a lot of people, they say you have to do things to change, but I don't think that's true. I think a person's change ... just happens. And it's happened to me."

 

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posted may. 8, 2007

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