COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.– A nearly four-decade long career of representing the people of El Paso and Teller counties in the courtroom is nearing it’s end for Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May.
In the last 40 years, May spent 12 years as the District Attorney and 38 years as a prosecutor.
Looking back at the cases May has tried reads like a history lesson for the area — bringing a mass shooter to trial, prosecuting child murders, cop killers and high profile murder cases that garnered attention from around the world.
Outside of the cases that were tried and prosecuted, the dozen-year period where he headed the prosecutor’s office for the Pikes Peak Region, the team has grown from 30 prosecutors to 90.
Through the years, May made sure the Fourth Judicial District courthouse had WiFi, implemented programs to rehabilitate people charged with drug crimes, including veterans who found themselves in trouble with the law, and juveniles who committed crimes early long in life in order to prevent them from becoming life long criminals.
“A lot of people don’t know Colorado Springs is bigger than St. Louis, bigger than Pittsburgh, bigger than New Orleans, bigger than Minneapolis and with that, comes a certain amount of crime,” May said, “Now, I will say our crime rate is very low, so we do have a very safe community, and I don’t want to alarm people, but we do get those big cases.”
The Juvenile Diversion program that accomplished that goal was the first of it’s kind in the state and May says, 85% of the young people that went through the program didn’t return to a courtroom. His office would have them accept some sort of legal responsibility, meet with the victim of their crime to apologize, and work with the person to find out about their background in ways to hopefully prevent situations where they commit crimes from happening again.
“We want to hold people accountable, we also want to strike the right balance and we want to rehabilitate them,” May said. “Early intervention is important for all of them. The faster you get them into the treatment programs, the more successful you are. The longer the case sits, we’re not getting justice done, and, quite frankly, a lot of people anymore will bond out and commit more crimes and only get in a worse position.”
One of the biggest and most impactful cases May has worked in his time is the 2018 Thanksgiving disappearance of Kelsey Berreth, the Woodland Park mother who, through his prosecution, May found out was murdered by her boyfriend Patrick Frazee.
Across national media outlets, the case put a spotlight on May’s office.
“That one was emotionally, was different. That one started as a missing persons case and we’re hoping to find her alive,” said May.
“Now, the more evidence we gathered we knew it was looking worse and worse that we were not going to find her alive, but still you never know. When the day came that we knew she was not going to be found alive, that was just crushing and I think your heart attached to that one. So, I’d say that was the most emotionally draining case I had ever had,” he continued.
May says when he started his career, he had never heard of vicarious trauma, the emotional exposure that weighs on people who are victims, or are the family of victims, of violent and gruesome crimes.
Counselors began to be provided to jurors, and eventually, his prosecutors.
Part of the prosecution of Patrick Frazee meant cutting a deal with Frazee’s mistress, Krystal Lee Kenney. In court, Kenney testified that Frazee had planned Berreth’s murder and she had helped him clean up the crime scene. Sentences on those crimes typically carry heavy penalties, but Lee Kenney received three years and probation after that term.
“In the end, you’re looking at who is your target here, who is the real killer here?” May says, “Can you make this case without this witness and it was pretty obvious that we could not.”
“Was it justice for Krystal Lee? Absolutely not… she’s in prison but not for the length she deserves.”
During May’s final, full year in office, protests calling for changes in the criminal justice system spread across the country and across Colorado Springs, at times right in front of his office.
The reforms that came of those protests in the Colorado General Assembly, May says are “anti-cop.”
“We have highly trained professionals who are law enforcement officers, highly educated, doing a great job every day. Every day, they’re putting their life on the line for you and I and unfortunately, I’ve been here long enough to have known some of those people,” May said.
“To measure the police on what happened to George Floyd here is just wrong. When the cops do crimes, I prosecute them. I’ve probably prosecuted 30 officers, but you know what? I’ve also prosecuted teachers for sexual assault and even murder in my career, but I’m not going to measure the education system based on a few criminal teachers that I have come across.”
Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen won the election to replace May. Allen’s term begins January 12.