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Slain Colorado prison boss honored at Missouri memorial

Updated: 2013-04-06T04:31:20Z

— They came to honor Tom Clements as a loving father and husband, a committed public servant and faithful churchgoer, an avid bicyclist whose love of the Colorado mountains paved the way for a move west from his Missouri birthplace and the Midwest college town he called home for nearly three decades.

The more than 400 friends, family members and former co-workers who packed a Friday afternoon memorial service at Woodcrest Chapel in Columbia didn't dwell on the details of Clements' death 17 days earlier when he was shot answering the door at his home outside Colorado Springs. Instead, they celebrated his life and his legacy, his belief in rehabilitation even among the most hardened of criminals.

“I cannot make sense of clerical errors or perceived mistakes,” his wife Lisa Clements told the mourners. “Tom believed in redemption, the ability of the human heart to change, for a life to be transformed.”

Colorado officials believe Clements, 58, and a Denver pizza delivery driver were killed by former state inmate Evan Ebel, a member of white supremacist prison gang who was mistakenly released from prison four years early. Ebel was killed in a shootout with Texas authorities on March 21, two days after Clements' death.

Clements was born in St. Louis and attended Hazelwood High School, St. Louis Community College and Mid-America Nazarene University in Olathe, where he earned a bachelor's degree in sociology. He later received a master's degree in public administration from the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Lisa Clements, a psychologist who oversees Colorado's mental health services, said she met her husband in a college class on juvenile delinquency. His career choice was shaped by a prison visit he took as a teen to see a family member, his wife of 28 years said. The couple's two adult daughters flanked their mother on the pulpit Friday but did not speak.

In Missouri, Clements rose through the ranks from a first job as a probation and parole officer in St. Louis to an administrative job overseeing the state's 21 adult prisons. In 2011, Col. Gov. John Hickenlooper lured the retired Clements to work for his Department of Corrections as executive director. Lisa Clements said she and her late husband called the move “our next great adventure.” Family photos displayed during the memorial service showed Clements atop several Colorado mountain peaks.

Hickenlooper, who on Thursday announced a broad review of Colorado's prison and parole operations in response to the mistakes that led to Ebel's premature release, also invoked Clements' commitment to helping prisoners, not merely locking them up.

“He oversaw one of the coldest, toughest worlds with the warmest and most tender of hearts,” said Hickenlooper, who attended Friday's memorial.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon shared similar remembrances, and Missouri Department of Corrections director George Lombardi addressed Clements directly on behalf of “your corrections family,” many of whom were in attendance.

“He had an unwavering dedication to helping the most challenging souls among us find forgiveness,” Nixon said. “It was the Lord's work. And Tom loved it.”

The service came hours after another prison gang member wanted for questioning in Clements' death was arrested in Colorado. Authorities there were also looking for a third member of the 211 Crew who may have been involved.

Ebel had been sentenced to a combined eight years in prison for a series of assault and menacing convictions in 2005. He was convicted of assaulting a prison guard in 2008, but a clerical error led his new four-year term to be recorded as running simultaneously to his other sentences, rather than starting when they finished. He was released from a Colorado prison in late January.

Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier

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