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People You Can Count On

By: KKTV 11 News
By: KKTV 11 News

We all know law enforcement is responsible for putting criminals behind bars. But what happens when there's a murder they can't solve? This “People You Can Count On” is about four men: an ATF agent, a sheriff's deputy and two police officers. They teamed up to find a killer and ended up taking down a Los Angeles gang that was trying to take over Colorado Springs.

Almost five years ago, Dusty Thomas’ naked body was found off Highway 24. She was a drug addict with a criminal background, but her grandmother refused to let police forget about her. "And I told them that to, please, because it's Black on Black and drug related---don't let em get away with it," says Lola Mae Penny.

Since Dusty's body had been dumped a month before she was found, physical evidence was hard to come by. But law enforcement had something that turned out much more valuable. "We knew in our mind she had died as a result of the drug trade. There was no doubt in our mind about that," says Detective Mike Simler with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department.

She was connected to a gang called the Pamona West Side Mafia Crypts. "For lack of a better term, they were snubbing their nose at law enforcement, saying, “Catch me if you can ‘cause we're gonna bring out L.A. drama to the streets of Colorado Springs and there's gonna be nothing this small town can do,’" says Jim Deir with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

In 1999, when Dusty's body was found, violent crime in Colorado Springs hit an all time high. Police attribute the rise to this gang. That's when an unlikely team was formed. "By joining forces---DEA, ATF, Sheriff's Office---we were able to take a multi-pronged approach to attacking an L.A.-based organization that thought they could come into Colorado and pretty much run things," says Detective Jim Rodgers of the Colorado Springs Police Department.

These officers put in countless hours, not only trying to solve Dusty's murder, but hoping to bust a large crack distribution ring. "There were many times the pager would go off at 2:00 in the morning. We'd all get together and meet and get a game plan. Next thing you know, we're in a car riding to Pueblo, a plane ride to L.A. or where ever it took us," says Sgt. Jeff Jensen of the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Their hard work paid off. In their search for a murderer, this impromptu task force sent nearly 100 people to prison on state and federal charges. But what about Dusty's killer? Investigators followed a trail of evidence and tips from informants, and that led to the arrest of Charles Holyfield.

Prosecutors say their case against Holyfield was missing one key thing---strong physical evidence linking the suspect to the crime. In November of 2003, a jury agreed and found Holyfield not guilty of murder. However, they did convict him on federal drug charges.

Despite the fact that Dusty's killer may never face justice for the crime, these four men and Dusty's grandmother say her death and their work was not in vain. "Everybody who worked on this spent a lot of time away from their families, but it was worthwhile because I think at the end of the day everybody feels somewhat safer an organization like this is off the street," says Detective Rodgers.

"All I can do is leave it in God's hands now, because he's not gonna let him get away with that," says grandmother Lola Mae Penny.

Holyfield will be sentenced the end of March. He'll get a minimum of 30 years in prison, but because of his criminal background, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.


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