Gov. Roy Romer was as vigilant as any of Colorado’s chief executives in voicing his resolve that anyone seeking clemency would have a high bar to reach.

Anyone actually getting it needed to have overreached.

“It is my belief that only an exceptional person merits a pardon or commutation of sentence,” Romer was frequently quoted as saying whenever clemency was discussed.

Other governors said much the same, noting that they did not easily undo that which a judge or jury had put into place.

Of the nearly 500 people The Denver Post could identify who receive executive clemency from a Colorado governor between 1979 and 2020, the majority remained true to their promise that they deserved it and would lead a better life.

About two dozen people to have their sentences commuted in that time found themselves back in prison, typically within two or three years, The Post found.

The newspaper could not trace all the names because many of the executive orders granting the clemency cannot be located or the scant information available about the others, such as very common names and no dates of birth or case numbers, wasn’t enough to ensure the right person was identified.

In 1980, then-Gov. Richard Lamm pardoned Douglas Rubins of his marijuana crimes. Three years later, records show Rubins was convicted of attempted murder and first-degree assault.

Three others whose sentences were commuted that year found themselves behind bars within a few years, including Jason Long, 65, who’s been in prison since 1992 serving a life sentence for kidnapping and sex assault charges.

And of the 33 prisoners to receive a commuted sentence from Lamm in 1981, half were back in prison within five years, The Post found.

Of the 38 commutations Lamm issued in 1983 and 1984, three would return to prison on murder charges, records show.

“I suppose there’s an inherent risk of anyone in the system going back into it, whether they are issued clemency or not,” said attorney James Kurtz-Phelan, Lamm’s chief legal counsel from 1979-1982 who offered the governor advice about clemency issues. “Recidivism is part of the criminal justice system and I’m not sure it’s any different with clemency on the table.”

Over a dozen years, Romer exercised his right as governor to pardon the crimes or commute the sentences of more than 50 people – although several of the executive orders cannot be located and the recipients unidentified, according to a Denver Post review.

In 1988, Romer offered clemency to only one inmate, Lawrence Eims, who was convicted of attempted forgery and criminal impersonation three years earlier.

Since then, he’s been convicted of felony theft and aggravated car theft, earning him another four years in state prison.

“I think no matter how careful you are or how much diligence you do, a longstanding fact of human history is you can’t predict human behavior,” said attorney Tim Daly, Romer’s former chief legal counsel and advisor on clemencies. “You can try to understand all you can about a case or a person, but you just can’t predict everything.”