DENVER (KDVR) — A decades-old murder has been getting a second look in the Denver District Attorney’s office nearly 20 years after a husband was convicted of shooting his wife in the head and leaving her body in the trunk of her car.
“My real object is not getting out of prison. My real object is straightening out this false conviction and making sure the people who are responsible for it are held to account,” said Hal Hebert, 78, an inmate at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility.
Hebert, who has been appealing his conviction and filing motions to dispute how his court proceedings were handled, is serving a life sentence without parole. He was accused of killing his wife, Carol Hebert, in 2001 and convicted of her murder in 2003.
The Problem Solvers learned through the Denver District Attorney’s Office that the case has been “under review” for several months.
Hebert has alleged in court filings that a trial witness used against him was subsequently determined to be a serial killer who later was convicted of several murders.
Hebert has also argued that various attorneys who helped him with his cases and his appeals were “ineffective.”
He also questioned the integrity of people who helped put him away, including at least one detective and some prosecutors.
Hebert told the Problem Solvers he did not kill his wife. The DA’s office said the jury’s conviction was correct.
“We have confidence in the prosecution of Mr. Hebert and believe the jury correctly found him guilty of brutally murdering his wife,” Denver DA spokesperson Carolyn Tyler said. “Mr. Hebert has maintained his claim of innocence and because our office does not have a conviction review unit, we asked an outside organization to look at his case and ensure that justice was served. That work is ongoing.”
The Innocence Project is involved
Hebert said he has been working with an attorney from the Korey Wise Innocence Project, an organization based at the University of Colorado Law School that investigates potentially wrong convictions and alleged mistakes in the judicial and legal systems.
The Problem Solvers filed an open records request for Hebert’s prison call logs and confirmed an attorney who works with the Korey Wise Innocence Project has been in touch with Hebert several dozen times since at least October 2020, including phone calls as recently as last month.
Anne-Marie Moyes, the program director of the Korey Wise Innocence Project, declined to confirm or speak about the organization’s involvement in Hebert’s case.
“I think it’s telling that the Colorado innocence project is taking this on because – again, having not spoken to them directly – my sense would be, my guess would be that they think that there’s something there,” said Ian Farrell, an associate professor of criminal law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
“I don’t know what the process is for the district attorney’s office to determine which cases that they will review,” he said. “My guess would be that the fact that they are reviewing it suggests that they have some basis for thinking that there’s potentially an issue. That doesn’t necessarily mean there is.”
Tyler, with the DA’s office, said revisiting convictions can drudge up a number of issues.
“It is important for your viewers to understand that any time a conviction is under review it has the very real potential of giving false hope to the offender and their supporters and of re-traumatizing the victim’s loved ones,” Tyler said. “The process calls into question the work of everyone involved – from the investigation, to the prosecution, and the defense. Reviewing a case can also unnecessarily damage careers and undermine the public’s trust in our system of justice. For all of these reasons it is critical that confidentiality be preserved until the work is complete.”
DA maintains confidence in Hebert’s conviction
Bill Ritter, the district attorney during the case, said he is confident that Hebert’s conviction is accurate and that his trial was fair.
“If you look at the evidence from start to finish in this case, he had a fair trial,” Ritter said. “The evidence was produced that allowed 12 people to say, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was guilty of first-degree murder against his wife.”
Ritter said he understands why the current district attorney’s office would review a case.
“I don’t blame anybody for putting it through a process, if he’s claiming his innocence, to ask the question about whether that’s a legitimate claim, but I was very comfortable at the time, and I remain very comfortable, that he was guilty of first-degree murder,” Ritter said.
Farrell, the DU criminal law professor, called the revelation that one witness turned out to be an eventual serial killer “bizarre.”
Farrell said the facts provide Hebert an opportunity to make additional arguments.
“They provide an opportunity for Mr. Hebert to argue that, had the fact that (the witness) was a serial killer been known by the jury, then they may have come to a different result, a different conclusion. Or at least: there’s enough doubt about that, he should be given a new trial in which the new jury is given this additional information,” Farrell said about potential arguments Hebert could consider.
Farrell said it is not unusual for people who have been sentenced to life in prison to pursue various legal remedies and for the process to last a long time.
“In Colorado, for instance, we can think of there being really four different ways that you can challenge a criminal conviction through the courts,” Farrell said. “Three of them are through state courts, and one of them is through federal courts.”
After reviewing Hebert’s situation, Farrell said Hebert is far from exhausting all of his legal remedies, including at the federal level.
“There’s also what the governor can do in the exercise of his discretion to grant clemency,” said Farrell. “Even after these judicial remedies have been exhausted – both state and federal – the defendant or his lawyers can petition the governor for clemency.”
Who was Carol Hebert?
To her friends, Carol Hebert was one of the sweetest women they ever knew. Before she was killed, Carol was a respected interior designer with a calm demeanor and a creative, artistic mind.
“Carol was probably the sweetest person I ever met,” said Cheryl Acierno, who owns Acierno & Company, a Denver flooring company. The two worked together before Carol died.
“She was very smart. She was very talented. She was a great designer,” Acierno said. “I think the thing I remember most was that she had this calming effect on people. She was always really calm, and I admired that trait because I’m not always calm.”
Acierno and her friend Tina Boyer reminisced about Carol’s kindness, too. They each said they held onto a box of intricate handmade mittens Carol had given each of them during their friendship.
Boyer said the two played golf together and participated in book club.
“She was just one of those people you wanted to be around,” Boyer said. “She was so smart – talented. She was just an all-around good person.”
On the day Carol was killed, Boyer and Acierno said they closed their office early because it was snowing.
As a result, they missed a phone call from Carol, who left a voicemail late in the day.
“She just said, ‘Call me,’ and she never called me in the afternoon,” Boyer said.
“I always wondered if it would have made a difference if we’d have been here when the call came. I don’t know that it would have, but I used to think about that,” Acierno said.
Later, they heard on the news that a woman’s body had been discovered in the trunk of a car.
It was Carol.
“I literally fell to the floor because it was so out of left field,” Acierno said. “So random. And so – just insane to lose a friend that way.”