Judge vacates Boulder woman’s murder conviction after domestic violence evidence emerges

Courtesy History Colorado
Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex issued same-sex marriage licenses to six couples at the Boulder County Courthouse in 1975.

A Boulder County District Court judge made the rare decision to vacate a 2010 murder conviction on Monday after evidence of past domestic abuse in the case came to light.

Traci Housman was arrested for second-degree murder in 2009 after fatally stabbing her husband, John Housman, in their Boulder home. During the case’s original court proceedings, Housman accepted an offer from prosecutors to plead guilty to criminally negligent homicide and serve probation. 

More than a decade later, Housman and the lead detective in the case requested a review of her conviction. The 20th Judicial District’s District Attorney’s office considered the request through its Conviction Integrity Unit, and re-interviewed Housman before filing a motion to vacate the conviction, said Michael Dougherty, district attorney. 

“The information she shared was more than she had shared back at the time when she was arrested,” Dougherty said. “We ultimately concluded that Ms. Houseman was the victim of domestic violence and she had been in an emotionally and physically abusive, violent relationship with Mr. Houseman.” 

Both Traci Housman and family members of her husband attended a final hearing on the motion Monday. John Housman’s family opposed the overturning, Dougherty said. 

“They, of course, have good memories of their loved one, and they're entitled to those memories,” Dougherty said. “But this was the right thing to do.” 

Housman and her husband knew each other from childhood, according to the DA’s motion to vacate her conviction, which outlines the course of their relationship. The two reconnected in 2007, and John Housman asked Traci to move from Idaho to Boulder. 

When she didn’t want to move right away, John traveled to Idaho and threatened Traci’s boss and “made her coworkers uncomfortable,” according to the motion. 

Traci decided to quit her job and move earlier to avoid conflict. After moving to Boulder, she noticed a shift in John’s behavior, the motion said. 

“Early in their relationship, Mr. Housman would tell Ms. Housman that they were soulmates and meant to be together,” the motion said. “Those statements shifted to Mr. Housman telling Ms. Housman that if she left him, he would kill himself.” 

By 2009, John would repeatedly accuse Traci of planning to leave him. Traci described John’s moods as erratic, and verbal abuse became physical. 

“It began with Mr. Housman shoving Ms. Housman when he was intoxicated,” the motion said. “Ms. Housman reacted to being shoved by crumpling to the ground and not resisting.” 

In one incident, John Housman struck Traci in the chest when she tried to prevent him from leaving a friend’s house while intoxicated. Traci thought about leaving the relationship after that, according to the motion, but decided to stay. 

The night of their fatal fight, the couple went out to drink with some friends. While out, according to the motion, they got in an argument and Traci left the bar alone. 

When she returned home, John was waiting for her and immediately began slamming her head against the walls of their house, “causing frames to break and fall to the ground and [leaving] a dent in the wall,” the motion said. 

Traci kicked John away, but the fight intensified and  she ran to the kitchen. As John continued to threaten her, she grabbed a knife and stabbed him once. 

She ran out of the house, but returned to the kitchen when John didn’t follow her. There, Traci found him on the floor and called 911. Housman died from a single stab wound. 

After her arrest, the DA’s office charged Traci with second-degree murder, but offered her a plea deal for criminally negligent homicide with seven years of probation, which she accepted. 

Three years later, her probation was terminated early without objection from the victim’s family or the DA’s office. 

In 2018, the DA’s office established the Conviction Integrity Unit to investigate wrongful conviction claims. Housman’s is one of several it has taken on. 

As a part of her case review, DA Dougherty and other attorneys revisited her entire case, as well as John Housman’s criminal history, which included other acts of domestic violence. 

The additional information about the couple’s relationship, along with more explanation about what happened during the fight, provided enough evidence to support a self-defense claim, Dougherty said. 

In 2009, Traci Housman did not want to reveal the extent of her husband’s abusive behavior, which weakened her self-defense claim at the time, Dougherty said. 

“She took the guilty plea because she faced a sentence – if convicted in a trial – of 16 to 48 years in prison,” Dougherty said. 

Criminal justice advocates and leaders say the larger issue is much better understood now. At least 94 people were killed in domestic violence-related incidents in 2022, according to a recent report released by the Colorado Attorney General's Office. 

The number represents an all-time high for deaths related to abuse. 

“I think we have a far better approach to domestic violence cases and the dynamics that victims and survivors struggle with now than we did back then,” Dougherty said. 

Colorado courts have overturned murder convictions before. In 2013, an appeals court overturned a murder conviction of a Longmont man after evidence showed prosecutors failed to pursue other suspects in the case. 

In 2023, a judge overturned an Adams County murder conviction after attorneys argued police misused a warrant to uncover incriminating information from the suspect's cell phone.

Still, Housman’s overturned conviction is rare, Dougherty said. 

“This is an unusual and fairly extraordinary action,” he said. “But it's completely consistent with the district attorney's mission of seeking justice. Domestic violence is a terrible and ongoing problem in every community.” 

At Monday’s hearing, a judge sealed Housman’s case, which will prevent it from showing up in a background check. Her attorney has the ability to file a motion to expunge her murder conviction. She can also now bring a wrongful conviction claim to a state court.