Trial delayed for anti-gang activist accused of attempted murder

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march Terrance Roberts
Terrance Roberts, with megaphone, led a prayer for an end to gang violence as about 100 community members marched to the Holly Square shopping center in northeast Denver Friday evening, May 23, 2008.

The trial of Terrance Roberts, a former gang leader who later preached a message of peace, has been delayed until June.

Roberts is charged with first-degree attempted murder, first degree assault, and possession of a weapon by a previous offender for the shooting of Hasan Jones. He is accused of shooting Jones five times, leaving him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.

Many in Denver were stunned when Roberts was arrested for the shooting which took place in during a peace rally that Roberts himself organized in Sept. 2013 in northeast Park Hill.

More than a year later, the case is still winding its way through the courts, revealing a complicated story involving tensions between Roberts -- who ran one of Denver’s most prominent anti-gang programs -- and the violent gang Roberts formerly led, the Park Hill Bloods.

Roberts does not deny shooting Jones

Photo: Terrance Roberts
Terrance Roberts in police custody after the shooting on Sept. 20, 2013.

Roberts has declined a plea offer, instead arguing that he acted in self-defense. Some witnesses say Roberts fired at Jones after he was already on the ground.

“What does it say to other community leaders if I take a plea for something I didn’t do and have to go to prison for defending my life against a group of dangerous gang members?” Roberts told journalist and filmmaker Julian Rubinstein, who is working on a film and book about the case and the community where the shooting took place.

The Denver District Attorney’s office has filed the habitual criminal offender status on Roberts, quadrupling his sentencing range with no discretion allowed by the judge.

He faces more than 100 years in prison if convicted.

After prison, Roberts embraced a different path

Roberts spent nearly 11 years in Colorado prisons, including time in solitary confinement, for robbery, menacing and weapons charges.

When he was released in 2004, Roberts sought mentorship from Denver anti-gang activist Rev. Leon Kelly, who he had known since childhood. Kelly then helped Roberts set up Prodigal Son, Roberts’s program for youth violence prevention.

As part of his work with kids, Roberts installed basketball courts at the Holly, which was a former shopping center. His efforts there attracted outside money, including a $5 million grant from the Anschutz Foundation in 2012 to build a new boys and girls club on the site of the old shopping center.

But the development also attracted tensions between Roberts and some gang members who began calling him a “gentrifier” and a “snitch,” meaning someone who was working with law enforcement. Rubinstein and other gang experts say in the gang world, being a snitch is tantamount to a death sentence.

The shooting took place one week before the new Boys and Girls Club was scheduled to open.

“Just disbelief at how sad it was,” Gov. Hickenlooper told Rubinstein about his feelings upon hearing about the shooting. “That’s the overwhelming emotion I keep coming back to again and again is just this sense of sadness. I just know how hard Terrance worked.”

Roberts has been free on bond and living in an undisclosed location since the incident due to death threats from gang members. Jones is described by Denver Police as a “dangerous gang member.” He is currently in custody on attempted murder charges himself for a gang-related drive-by shooting that seriously wounded a man in Park Hill on May 30.