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Cornelius Haney. (Provided by the Colorado Department of Corrections)

A man who was released from prison last month on parole following policies enacted by Gov. Jared Polis to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus among inmates has been arrested in the fatal shooting of a woman last weekend in Denver. 

Cornelius Haney, 40, is accused of first-degree murder in the slaying of 21-year-old Heather Perry near the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Verbena Street on May 9. 

Haney was released on April 15, four months early, under an executive order by Polis before that allows inmates to be released on “special-needs parole.” 

Cornelius Haney. (Provided by the Colorado Department of Corrections)

The idea behind the order is to reduce inmate populations and then avoid a major outbreak of the disease. Colorado prisons have, nonetheless, seen hundreds of coronavirus cases and at least two deaths linked to the disease

“The potential spread of COVID-19 in … prisons poses a significant threat to prisoners and staff who work in facilities and prisons, as well as the communities to which incarcerated persons will return,” Polis said in the order, signed March 25.

Polis said Friday during a briefing with reporters that the parole board, in deciding to release inmates like Haney, was attempting to keep outbreaks from happening in prisons.

“In making those decisions they are taking into consideration the safety of prison guards and others,” he said. “But no person who is a danger to society should be released early in any situation and of course nobody on that parole board thought that this person was going to do what they allegedly did.” 

The Colorado Department of Corrections says Haney had been eligible for parole since 2017. His mandatory release date was Aug. 22.

“They couldn’t have held that person much longer than they did,” Polis said.

He was serving a seven-year prison sentence stemming from a case in Arapahoe County. 

9News first reported Haney’s recent release from prison because of the coronavirus. The television news station says he pleaded guilty to felony robbery in 2016 after being charged two years earlier with aggravated robbery. 

Cornelius Haney’s Denver mugshot. (Provided by the Denver District Attorney’s Office)

“I think it’s an incredible and horrible tragedy. It’s like an unforced error,” said Republican George Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District attorney, whose office prosecuted the case.

Brauchler said he is going to push for more answers from Polis’ administration and would like the Department of Corrections to stop releasing inmates early.

“I want to know how many other people out there have been paroled like this. Should be the public be concerned? Because I am,” Brauchler said.

Annie Skinner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said in a written statement, said Haney “was released due to special-needs parole criteria.”

“When looking at special-needs parole criteria, the Department of Corrections’ medical staff reviews offenders for risk factors related to COVID as documented by the Centers for Disease Control,” Haney said in a written statement. “The clinical team reviews the inmate’s medical records to individually confirm the existence of conditions and their severity. The department also reviews information related to their crime of incarceration and behavior inside the facility.”

The corrections department then forwards a recommendation to the state’s parole board for review and the panel makes a decision.

“Nobody should be released simply because of COVID-19. Of course the parole board, in making individual evaluations, has a tough job that they do,” Polis said.

Denver city records show Haney is being held at the downtown Denver jail without bond. He is facing 14 counts, including possession of a weapon by a previous offender, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, theft and attempted second-degree kidnapping. 

A probable cause statement filed by police indicates investigators linked Haney to the killing by using surveillance footage taken by police cameras. He was found in a nearby motel bathroom. 

MORE: Read the probable cause statement.

Haney is next due in court on Monday.

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...