Liberal Judge Craig Welling, an appointee of then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, released a serial child rapist to roam the streets of Colorado Springs. Two years later, Welling wants voters to retain him in office. Please do not. Do as he did to the rapist. Set Welling free by voting “no” on his retention.
The story goes back to 2015 when a Grand Junction jury convicted truck driver Michael McFadden, 46 at the time, of multiple rapes of children younger than age 12. He was such a brazen predator, so dangerous, the court gave him a minimum sentence of 324 years.
Repeat: Michael McFadden, a serial rapist with victims under age 12, was supposed to spend 324 years behind bars. He would certainly die in prison before harming more children.
That was the plan until Welling and two other Colorado Court of Appeals judges ruined it. They chose to set McFadden free in the spring of 2018 on a technicality. After walking out of the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway, McFadden made his way to Colorado Springs.
Local authorities arrested McFadden two days later after he sought assistance at the Citizens Service Center on Garden of the Gods Road. McFadden had failed to register as a sex offender for a previous and separate conviction of raping a child.
McFadden bonded out a few days later and lived homeless on the streets of Colorado Springs. A day after bonding out, he told KKTV he might not register as a sex offender, despite the state’s insistence, because he expected a legal technicality to work for him again.
The technicality that led Welling to free McFadden involved the convict’s right to a speedy trial under state statute. McFadden, using a typical tactic of felony defendants, worked to stall his trial. He twice waived his right to a speedy trial in the interest of buying time. That should have ended the whole question of his right to a speedy trial going forward, as court precedent tells us.
When the court attempted to convene a jury, McFadden’s lawyers drafted a questionnaire for the jurist pool that referenced McFadden’s prior conviction for raping a child. It is a common defense move that helps rid the pool of pro-prosecution jurors. Jury candidates who say a prior conviction might reduce their ability to judge a suspect objectively are dismissed.
In this case, the question led to a bonus prize. Twenty-First Judicial District Judge Thomas Deister determined McFadden could not get a fair trial among jurors informed of his child-rape conviction. McFadden’s constitutional right to a fair trial outweighed his statutory right to a speedy trial, which the suspect had waived.
The court set another trial that led to McFadden’s conviction and centurieslong sentence. The rapist appealed, claiming the final delay in the process — the new trial to ensure him a fair trial — violated his statutory right to a speedy trial.
Colorado precedent shows the court may exempt a case from the speedy trial guarantee if a judge delays the process to protect a defendant’s fair trial guarantee. Then-Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman confirmed this, citing precedent that said courts have a “clear obligation” to uphold the constitutional rights of defendants when statutory rights interfere with them.
Despite irrefutable precedent legitimizing the lower court’s trial, Welling and two other appellate judges ruled in McFadden’s favor and overturned his convictions. He was free, perhaps forever.
“The court of appeals even acknowledged in its written opinion that Colorado Supreme Court precedent did exist to override statutory right (speedy trial) to protect constitutional rights (fair trial). Despite that acknowledgment, the Court of Appeals still chose to rule in favor of the pedophile,” wrote former two-term Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland, who urges Coloradans to vote against Welling’s retention.
Upon McFadden’s release, Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein urged voters to “take action” when the judges show up on ballots for retention. Fellow Judge Jerry Jones faces a retention vote in 2024. Judge Dennis Graham retired.
“This division of the Court of Appeals got this wrong,” Rubinstein tells The Gazette. “They did not defer to Judge Deister’s determination that a constitutional violation was going to occur without the delay.”
Distraught over the risk of McFadden harming children in Colorado Springs, Rubinstein met with colleagues from the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.
They obtained federal charges against McFadden because he traveled across state lines with child victims in his 18-wheeler. A federal grand jury indicted him in 2019 on five counts of traveling across state lines to engage in sexual acts with children.
McFadden belongs behind bars for life. He lured young girls into his truck to have sex with them during long-haul travel. Welling had obvious legal latitude to protect our children, but chose to set this predator free. Let’s free Welling from the Court of Appeals by voting “no” on his retention.
The Gazette Editorial Board