An Aspen woman who was once accused of 25 felonies for harassing members of her former church is free after spending more than two years in jail.
Jan Hamilton, 71, pleaded guilty May 31 to two misdemeanors for violating protection orders that congregation members had against her. As part of a plea agreement, the felony charges were dropped, court records show.
She was given credit for the roughly 25 months she spent in the Pitkin County Jail and was also sentenced to five years of supervised probation.
Hamilton had been in jail since May 2011 after she was charged with extortion and stalking, as well as violating protection orders and bond terms.
Members of Crossroads Church of Aspen, from which she was excommunicated, told police that they had felt threatened by emails Hamilton had sent.
In one batch of emails, Hamilton told a dozen or so people that they were the subjects of potential lawsuits, according to an arrest warrant.
Those emails told the recipients that they would be encumbered by legal fees unless they agreed to serve as witnesses for her in other cases. She was hit with more felony extortion counts for those actions and a $300,000 cash-only bond. She was unable to pay that amount, leading to her long pretrial term in jail.
Hamilton maintained throughout that she was being persecuted because she is a lesbian. She filed 61 lawsuits against various people over six years, leading Chief Judge James Boyd of the 9th Judicial District to make an unusual ruling.
Finding that she was abusing the judicial system, Boyd mandated that Hamilton first file lawsuits and other court actions with him. He reviews them and decides if they are legal and appropriate before the filings enter the court system.
She said in an interview Thursday that she went to jail because she “was making a stand for equal rights.”
If her example can stop bullying or prevent someone from committing suicide, “two years in jail is nothing,” Hamilton said.
She said she doesn’t believe she is guilty of violating the protection orders, noting that she only left a voicemail for one person to inform them that another person had died. An email she sent out — which led to more charges — only discussed Easter and “unconditional love,” Hamilton said.
Asked how she planned to handle the multiple lawsuits she has filed, Hamilton said she wasn’t ready to discuss that yet.
But she said she wants to make peace with the community.
“I want to put this all behind me,” she said. “I want to start over and live in peace.”
The primary condition of her probation is that she comply with two mandatory protection orders and with Boyd’s orders in her civil filings, said Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan.
Jail Administrator Don Bird said Hamilton’s roughly two-year stint before she reached the plea bargain wasn’t a record. But it was close, he said.
Hamilton’s term was “fairly unusual,” Bird said. The jail has housed a couple of other people — who were accused of much more serious crimes and whose attorneys had waived their right to a speedy trial — for longer periods than Hamilton’s before their cases were adjudicated, Bird said.