Cliff Grassmick
Prosecutor Colette Cribari sits outside her home in Superior with her daughter Kelsey, 13, and the family dog, Katie. After 26 years with the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, Cribari’s last day will be July 31.

BOULDER, Colo. –

Fresh out of law school in November 1983, Colette Cribari landed a dream job as a prosecutor for the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office.

In the 26 years that followed, Cribari moved her way through county court, paid her dues trying drunken drivers and found her niche prosecuting crimes against children.

Cribari has had her tough days — like her first visit to see 9-week-old Tanner Dowler in the hospital, shortly before he died.

Tanner had 15 broken bones, burns on his feet and bleeding of the brain — the result of being shaken and abused by his father, who is serving a 60-year prison sentence. When Cribari saw the baby, she said, he was wearing only a diaper and lying in an adult-sized hospital bed in a room by himself.

“In the corner of one eye, there was a teardrop,” she said. “I wept myself when I saw it.”

But Cribari has had her good days too.

Recently — during the years-long investigation and prosecution of Alex and Molly Midyette for their infant son’s death — Cribari received a timely e-mail from a sex-assault victim she’d worked with years earlier.

“She said that we had made a difference in her life,” Cribari said. “That e-mail touched me and energized me.”

On July 31, Cribari will clean out her desk and move on to “what lies ahead.” She was terminated earlier this year — before Alex Midyette was sentenced to 16 years in prison — as part of a change in leadership at the District Attorney’s Office. District Attorney Stan Garnett hasn’t given specific reasons for why he’s terminated eight prosecutors — including Cribari and long-time prosecutor Bryan Quiram.

Cribari said she’s not been given an explanation for her departure.

“He said it’s not based on work,” she said. “He just didn’t see me as part of the future.”

Cribari has worked under three district attorneys for two and a half decades and said, “I’m not finished serving Boulder County.”

“I really had hoped to retire here,” she said.

But, Cribari said, she’s open to what this closed door means for her life. She’s compiling research material on head injuries, which she developed expertise on while prosecuting the Midyette case. And she might go into private practice to help juveniles on the other side of the system.

“I’m not ready to leave,” she said. “But it’s OK.”

‘Plea bargains happen for a reason’

Like many new prosecutors, Cribari started at the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office handling drunken driving cases, assaults and indecent exposures in county court. A few years later, she was promoted to district court, where she grew into her specialty — prosecuting cases involving juveniles.

“I was really good at dealing with the victims,” Cribari said. “It’s easy to be an advocate for them.”

She said her first boss, former District Attorney Alex Hunter, ran an office geared toward resolving cases in a fair way for both the victim and the defendant. When Mary Keenan — now Mary Lacy — took office, Cribari said, Lacy wanted to try more cases.

“I agree you need to be ready to go to trial,” she said. “But some plea bargains happen for a reason.”

Take the James Leach case in 2003 — one of Colette’s toughest. One morning, after Leach’s girlfriend left for work, he got high on methamphetamine and woke up his girlfriend’s 7-year-old son by stabbing him in the chest. The knife hit the boy’s sternum, and the child got away. Leach then turned to the boy’s 4-year-old brother, who also was in bed, and stabbed him repeatedly.

The 7-year-old ran for help, and police arrived minutes later and in time to stop Leach from killing the 4-year-old. Lacy wanted to try the case and involve the community, Cribari said. But family members feared it would “destroy” the 7-year-old to testify and face his attacker.

Cribari worked on a plea deal that sent Leach to prison for 44 years. A judge later told her that Leach wouldn’t have gotten that much time had a jury convicted him, Cribari said.

‘Heart and soul into the Midyette case’

There are benefits, of course, to taking cases to trial, Cribari said. Proof is in her most high-profile case, which recently wrapped up. Cribari started poring through documents surrounding baby Jason Midyette’s death soon after the infant died March 3, 2006.

In May 2007, nearly a year after convening a grand jury, Alex and Molly Midyette were indicted on charges of child abuse resulting in death. Cribari said it was one of her most difficult cases because of the money the Midyettes spent on expert witnesses.

“They spent so much money, we’re lucky we got a conviction at all,” Cribari said. “Most people can afford three expert witnesses. They had 11.”

Cribari had to research what each of the experts would be talking about, and she now considers herself somewhat of an expert on infant head injuries and rare diseases.

“I know more about rare metabolic disorders than my doctor,” she said.

Molly Midyette was convicted of child-abuse resulting in death and Alex Midyette was convicted of criminally negligent child abuse resulting in death. They’re both serving 16-year prison sentences, and Cribari said, “I’m happy with the outcome.”

As tough as it is to leave Boulder County, Cribari said, she feels like she’s going out at the height of her career.

“I put my heart and soul into the Midyette case,” she said, adding that there are two types of prosecutors: the type who are in it to do quick trials and get experience and the type who are passionate about the victims and serving the community.

“We do it for the greater good,” she said.

Archived comments

DA Garnett has no vision.He’s probably bringing in some friends who can tell him what his vision actually is.Otherwise, we would have heard by now what his amazing plan is.

Just another moron full of himself…..

fardila@hotmail.com

7/5/2009 4:40:25 PM

I don’t understand how a 7 yr. old would be destroyed by having to testify against the offender of his 4 yr. old brother. Why wasn’t the family able to be convinced of the merits of this?

The fact that a judge would estimate the prison sentence paid for trial as less than the settlement sentence of 44 yrs. suggests bias, since the trial is the arena where the evidence is produced and weighed and it never even took place (in the case of the meth-user stabbing).

lynn_segal_aka_lds

7/5/2009 6:31:54 PM

You were FIRED because you were part of the problem of two previous DA offices that made a mockery of the judicial process.Plea bargain, plea bargain, plea bargain.Isn’t a cop in Boulder County sorry to see you and the rest of the plea bargain sheep being FIRED!!

Dinger2450

7/5/2009 6:48:35 PM

“In the 26 years that followed, Cribari moved her way through county court, paid her dues trying drunken drivers and found her niche prosecuting crimes against children.”

This quote is the perfect summary as to why you didn’t deserve the job.If you think trying drunken drivers is “paying your dues” then I don’t want you within a million miles of courtroom.

And if you think prosecuting crimes against children is a “a niche” instead of “shameless opportunistic career advancement for people with below average legal skills and zero shame in exploiting their clients for their career image” then I’ll hold a toast when you leave Colorado you tool.

NukesInBoulder

7/5/2009 7:32:59 PM

26 years service and the convictions noted, means rather than

“making a mockery of the judicial process” she performed her job competently over a long period. Maybe if the the case was prepared better so the DA can get a guilty verdict they wouldn’t have to plea bargain.(Jon Benet ring a bell? it should).

rswright@sbcglobal.net

7/5/2009 7:40:45 PM

Thank you for your service to our community. You might remember the case of little Michael Manning since you worked under Alex Hunter.

You have seen horrific things done to children and I am glad that you have learned from those injuries so that your expertise will help others. Your telling of the tear in little Tanner’s eye brought tears to mine.

Thank you again.

InMyHumbleOpinion

7/5/2009 7:55:26 PM

lynn_segal_aka_lds:

It is my understanding that for each charge in a case there is a minimum/maximum prison term IF the defendant is found guilty of that charge.

That is why we will read in the newspaper, “So-and-so could go to prison for 50 years if found guilty.” The reporter knows that for this charge(s) there is up to 50 years prison term.

It appears that what the judge was saying is that had a jury found the defendant guilty on the charge, the maximum years for that charge for example, might have been 40 years; Ms. Cribari sent him to prison for 44 years.

InMyHumbleOpinion

7/5/2009 8:10:28 PM

“Ms. Cribari sent him to prison for 44 years.”

1st of all she can’t send anyone to prison.A judge does that.

Dinger2450 – A little pissed at your prosecutor?Well, maybe, you should take a look at the quality of the police work that you do.

If she was a good prosecutor/litigator, she would have secured a job within the private sector by now, hell, if she was any good they would be beating down her door with job offers.

BiggieSmalls

7/5/2009 8:21:43 PM

Stan Garnett is a jerk for firing those lawyers in the depths of a severe recession.

lissmth

7/5/2009 8:29:59 PM

Remember when US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fired seven US attorneys at the end of 2006.It was a national scandal, and the firings resulted in hearings in Congress in 2007.

A subsequent report by the Justice Department Inspector General found that the process used to fire the seven attorneys was “arbitrary,” “fundamentally flawed,” and “raised doubts about the integrity of Department.

Like Garnett, Gonzales said that the attorneys were dismissed for job-performance reasons “related to policy, priorities and management” and no specific reasons were stated.

However a Department of Justice Inspector General’s investigation concluded that the dismissals were improper, and by mid-September 2007, nine of the highest-level officers of the US Department of Justice associated with the controversy had resigned, most prominently, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

As a citizen of Boulder County, I want to make sure elected officials such as Garnett do not use their elected positions to provide patronage jobs to their friends and supporters.

Garnett’s firing of eight seasoned prosecutors raises serious questions, and needs to be investigated.

What process is Garnett using to search for and select the best possible replacements for the individuals he fired?Or is he simply hiring friends and political supporters?

JQP

7/5/2009 8:34:17 PM

I knew a different side to this bi-atch. Too much self importance coupled with a belief that one is NEVER EVER wrong under any circumstances is a dangerous mix. She was hateful, when circumstances didn’t call for it. She did some things that showed she thought she was above the law. She was a creepy man-woman and I will shed no tears at her departure.

rockin_betty

7/5/2009 9:59:25 PM

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incercamiara

7/6/2009 5:09:47 AM

JQP wrote:

“Garnett’s firing of eight seasoned prosecutors raises serious questions, and needs to be investigated.

What process is Garnett using to search for and select the best possible replacements for the individuals he fired? Or is he simply hiring friends and political supporters?”

You can contact the Colorado Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge with your concerns and they will direct you to the appropriate place. (303)866-6658

InMyHumbleOpinion

7/6/2009 5:30:13 AM

Betty,

You are the one that sounds like a bi-atch.I love your generalizations without any specifics.Why don’t you just go away….thanks.

fardila@hotmail.com

7/6/2009 9:21:27 AM

A new D.A. can and should hire the personnel he wants.That’s how it works.There’s nothing to see here, move along.

glen@schuetze-gordon.com

7/6/2009 2:22:15 PM

“Colette Cribari reflects on 26 years of prosecution”—she was prosecuted for 26 years!

Perhaps, “reflects on 26 years as a Prosecutor”?

reckoner

7/6/2009 2:53:14 PM

“Most people can’t afford 3 expert witnesses…” Considering the breadth of resources, time and money supporting the prosecutors, most average citizens accused of a crime are at a distinct disadvantage.

meatpieandtatters

7/6/2009 2:54:38 PM

glen,

“There’s nothing to see here, move along”.

How many times have we heard this line from the likes of Albert Golzales and other corrupt politicians?

For many years Garnett was associated with the powerful lobbying firm of Hyatt, Brownstein & Farber which does a good job of looking out for its own best interests and those of its wealthy clients.

Garnett’s actions raise serious questions such as the one asked by JQP – “What process is Garnett using to search for and select the best possible replacements for the individuals he fired?”Are the positions open to all qualified applicants, or is he only hiring from a group of friends and political supporters, which according to glen, would be just fine.

Sorry glen, but this nation would be in even worse shape than it is now if all citizens had your move along “head in the sand” attitude.I can’t help but think that you are an insider.

Real_tor

7/6/2009 3:10:21 PM

Real_tor

&

JQP…

In the early 1990s it was every-day citizens who brought to the attention of former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Quinn concerns regarding child custody and family law issues.

Chief Justice Quinn ordered a preliminary investigation. The results merited a state-wide investigation with findings confirming the suspicions. The system had been put on notice.

If people are concerned they should be proactive and voice them without fear of reprisal. That is what is great about being an American.

InMyHumbleOpinion

7/6/2009 4:00:31 PM

To all of you:

You don’t have any idea what you are talking about. This woman is absolutely amazing, and should be thanked for her work here in Boulder.

She took on many cases that would have been scarring for normal people, and protected many kids and victims of these cases.

It takes so much courage and strength to do what Colette did for so many years.

You all need to examine your conscience if you are bagging on a woman that just lost her job. Grow a heart.

Thank you Colette.

You will be very missed, and just remember that you are moving on to bigger and better things.

JustAFriend223

7/8/2009 10:53:50 PM

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