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Different look at Gary Flakes

Ranger Rich

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We've heard by now the quiet voice of Gary Flakes, who was convicted of helping gun down a pair of teenagers in our village in 1997 when he was 16, announcing that he's running for a City Council seat.

And we've heard the outrage, the loudest coming from the pro-gun nut editorial-page boss at the Gazette, demanding Flakes withdraw from the race, labeling him unworthy of our forgiveness because "the people of Colorado Springs are not God."

Today, let's listen to another voice. The voice of a woman who knows Flakes well. She is white. Flakes is black. She is a bright young attorney, a former Chancellor Scholar at the University of Denver Law School. She is a tireless advocate for the disadvantaged.

And she is Gary Flakes' wife.

They met in spring 2011, not long after Flakes had been released from prison. He was speaking at a conference on juvenile justice and legal reform.

"Gary was telling his story and I listened," says the 27-year-old woman, who asked that her name not be used because of the uproar in some quarters over Flakes' campaign and a fear for her safety. "There was something special about his character," she says. "He was humble and honest. He spoke of his life. He wasn't getting paid. It was by his own volition that he got involved in the movement to reform the system and rehabilitate disadvantaged children and give them an opportunity."

Flakes did not care about any of that in 1997. He and teen pal Jeron Grant drove up behind 13-year-old Andy Westbay and 15-year-old Scott Hawrysiak on Valentine's Day. The boys were killed with a pair of shotgun blasts. In a dramatic case of legal bungling, Flakes and Grant were each convicted of being an accessory to murder. No one, two juries decided, pulled the trigger.

Flakes testified that he drove the car, stopping it because Grant said he wanted to get out and shoot the two boys.

Flakes is now 32. He served his time. Educated himself in prison. Became a Muslim, too, which doesn't really help his cause in our, uh, conservative town.

Last year, in an interview with Gazette columnist Bill Vogrin, Flakes said: "I'm definitely out here changing my life and being positive. I consider myself a living example."

An example of what? Of the possibilities, says his wife.

"Everyone in prison says when they get out they'll do good things and give back," she says. "Gary could have chosen manual labor or delivering pizza just to make money. But instead, he found a way to be a voice for a better juvenile-justice system."

So Flakes talks of his life, at conferences and seminars and high schools, including gatherings at Palmer and Wasson. Flakes started Infinite Mind Consulting, which focuses on leadership. Instead of hiding from his life, he lays it all out. He hopes kids are listening.

From City Councilor Jan Martin: "I have great compassion for the loss of those two boys. I was here back then. But when we send people through the judicial system and we give them a sentence, when it's done we want them to live a good life. I feel that way with Gary. I think he can do good things for our community."

"Forgiveness," Mark Twain wrote, "is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."

Perhaps, if we try to understand the good man that Gary Flakes seems to want to be, even as we remember the terrible boy that he was and vow never to forget the short lives of two lovable kids named Andy and Scott, well, maybe some light shines through the darkness.

"At the campaign announcement, Gary was really hurting and remembering," his wife said. "A family was in the room and they were all crying. Afterwards one of the women came up to Gary and said she was a best friend of Andy and Scott. And then she told him, 'I forgive you.' And she gave him a hug.

"That forgiveness is something he has prayed for since he was 16."

Rich Tosches (rangerrich@csindy.com) also writes a Sunday column in the Denver Post.

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