DENVER – Just days after announcing an order to block the execution of convicted killer Nathan Dunlap, Governor John Hickenlooper’s administration is once again courting controversy, this time in the form of convicted sex offender Homaidan al-Turki.
The Denver Post reported Thursday that Hickenlooper’s parole board will decide this week on whether or not to release al-Turki, a Saudi national who was originally sentenced to 28 years to life in 2006 for imprisoning and sexually abusing his housekeeper over a period of years in the basement of his Aurora home.
According to a Department of Corrections (DOC) spokesperson quoted in the Post report, al-Turki “will appear before the parole board in Limon Correctional Facility on Tuesday.”
But this is not the first time that Governor Hickenlooper’s administration has had to weigh in on the possible release of al-Turki.
In March, al-Turki asked to be released and repatriated to Saudi Arabia after serving a fraction of his original sentence. The request cleared initial reviews by prison officials, but was ultimately rejected by the then-corrections chief Tom Clements after public outcry.
In a letter formally denying the release, Clements noted al-Turki’s refusal to be screened by the Sex Offender Treatment and Monitoring Program, which is mandated as part of his conviction.
The District Attorney in the judicial district where al-Turki was convicted, George Brauchler, adamantly opposes al-Turki’s release, noting just as Clements did back in March, that al-Turki still refuses to enter the sex offender rehabilitation program.
“It is difficult to imagine that circumstances have changed in such a short period of time such that his parole is warranted now,” Braucher told The Observer. “Mr. Al-Turki’s parole request should be held to the same standard used by DOC for any defendant regardless of financial status or national origin. Al Turki’s victim, our community and justice demand no less.”
Worrying officials is also the fact that, as The Denver Post has reported, federal and state officials are still investigating any ties between al-Turki, Evan Ebel and the white supremacist gang he was affiliated with — the 211 crew.
Ebel, who died in a shootout with Texas deputies, is the lead suspect in the murder of Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Clements, a crime that officials initially suspected al-Turki of being involved in.
Hickenlooper’s administration is not the first to consider requests to release al-Turki, who comes from an influential Saudi family.
In 2006 during the term of Republican Governor Bill Owens, Attorney General John Suthers traveled to Saudi Arabia, reportedly at request of the U.S. State Department, to discuss the case with angry officials in the Islamic Kingdom.
Some, like Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer, say it’s not a coincidence that government officials are once again considering a request to release al-Turki.
“Clearly state and federal officials are feeling the heat from the Saudis. The Saudis are putting high pressure on them to let al-Turki return to Saudi Arabia — which would effectively mean releasing him,” Spencer said. ”The [U.S.] officials would love to accommodate them but have to cover for the flagrant flouting of American justice that that accommodation would involve. So they keep trying to find a way to release him without losing face.”
Mr. al-Turki has repeatedly claimed that his conviction was driven by anti-Muslim sentiment, and that he was simply treating his housekeeper according to Islamic custom.
“The restrictions placed on [the housekeeper's] contact with non-relative males were also the same as those applicable to my daughters and other Muslim women in our community,” al-Turki said during testimony.
“We are Muslim. We are different,” al-Turki continued. ”The state has criminalized these basic Muslim behaviors.”
The jury rejected al-Turki’s attempt to invoke religious freedom, convicting him of 12 counts of unlawful sexual contact, criminal extortion, theft of services and false imprisonment.
Mr. al-Turki’s case has become something of a cause celebre in the Islamic world, where his claims of anti-Muslim bias have been promoted by sympathetic media outlets and activists.
A 2006 State Department memo that became public during the Wikileaks scandal, for example, contains details of a conversation about the case between the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Michael Gfoeller and “Taleb,”a longtime friend of al-Turki’s.
“[Taleb] said that Saudis … have turned against the current Administration because of the treatment of Arabs and Muslims following September 11, especially Saudis studying and working in the U.S.; the perception that the [U.S.] unconditionally supports the government of Israel, the invasion of Iraq, and actions against the Palestinians and Lebanon,” the memo reads. “Taleb … expressed concern that, if [the al-Turki] conviction stands, animosity toward the USG could be inflamed to the point of acts of violence, even terrorism, in the U.S. or against Americans in the [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] or elsewhere.”
The Colorado Parole Board, which will decide on Tuesday whether to release al-Turki from prison, is made up of seven members appointed by the governor. Those members are Dr. Anthony Young, former Senate President Brandon Shaffer, Alfredo Pena, Rebecca Oakes, Joe Martin Morales, John O’Dell, and Denise Balazic.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Homaidan al-Turki’s request for parole was denied