- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

DENVER — Move over, Leonard Peltier. The latest cause celebre for celebrities in search of a cause isnt the American Indian Movement activist, but a young, blond Denver woman convicted of teaming up with a skinhead for a crime spree that ended with the murder of a police officer.
A bevy of Hollywood stars and musicians, led by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, is rallying in support of 25-year-old Lisl Auman, whos serving a life sentence for the 1998 murder of a Denver police officer.
Last week, Mr. Thompson and rocker Warren Zevon led a rally on the Colorado Capitol steps to denounce her prosecution and demand a lighter sentence.
"This is not about Lisl," said Mr. Thompson to the crowd of about 400 waving blue "Free Lisl" signs. "This is about you. What happened to her can happen to anybody."
The list of celebrity backers cited by the "Free Lisl" committee reads like an invitation list for the Oscars. It includes Jack Nicholson, Benicio del Toro, Johnny Depp, John Cusack, Jimmy Buffett, Woody Harrelson, Don Johnson, Lyle Lovett, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn and Bonnie Raitt.
Aumans case has attracted non-Hollywood supporters as well, including the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which sees her case as a particularly egregious example of whats wrong with the felony murder law. Also speaking against the felony murder statute at her rally were presidential scholar Douglas Brinkley and San Antonio lawyer Gerald Goldstein.
Aumans road from a 21-year-old party girl to convicted murderer began in November 1997, when she broke up with her boyfriend.
On Nov. 12, 1998, she drove to his house in Pine, Colo., to retrieve her belongings or to burglarize his house, depending on whom you believe, with four friends, including Matthaeus Jaehnig, 25, a skinhead she had met the night before.
As she and her friends removed items from her ex-boyfriends house, someone called the police. While the rest of the group drove off in one car, she and Jaehnig fled in a stolen Trans Am. During the course of an extended high-speed chase, Auman took the wheel of the car while Jaehnig fired shots at police in pursuit.
They wound up at a condominium complex, where Auman surrendered to police while Jaehnig fled on foot. While Auman sat handcuffed in a police cruiser, Jaehnig shot and killed Officer Bruce VanderJagt, a 47-year-old husband and father of a toddler.
Jaehnig then used the officers gun to commit suicide by shooting himself under the chin.
With Jaehnig dead, the question for prosecutors became how to treat Lisl Auman.
She was originally held for investigation of second-degree burglary, felony menacing and first-degree assault, but shortly afterward the charges were upped to first-degree murder under Colorados felony murder statute.
Under felony murder laws, suspects can be charged with murder if they participated in a crime that ultimately led to murder, even if they themselves didnt pull the trigger. In Aumans case, prosecutors argued that her role in instigating the burglary touched off a chain of events that resulted in the officers death.
Her defense argued that once she entered police custody, she could no longer be considered a participant in the crime. A jury found her guilty and sentenced her to a life sentence without parole, a punishment that her supporters insist far outweighs her crime.
They argue that her conviction had more to do with the highly charged political atmosphere surrounding Officer VanderJagts death than with Aumans role.
A week after his murder, another skinhead, Nathan Thill, killed a West African immigrant as he stood waiting for a bus in downtown Denver. Then the carcass of a pig was found outside a district police station with "VanderJagt" written in marker on its hide.
Public opinion in Denver has been split. Most letter-writers and callers to talk- show hosts seem to think Auman deserves a lighter sentence, although few are willing to let her off with no jail time and many chafe at efforts to paint her as an innocent caught up in events beyond her control.
"The squeaky-clean image of Lisl Auman is belied by the facts," said former prosecutor Craig Silverman.
He noted that Auman rejected a plea deal that would have let her off with a lesser prison sentence, insisting that "I didnt do anything."
"On the fourth floor of the city and county building, they dont play catch-and-release," Mr. Silverman said.
"What do you do if you make a good-faith plea bargain and its refused? I dont lose a lot of sleep over Lisl Auman. I let Hollywood celebrity types worry about her."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide