SOUTHERN COLORADO — In the early 1980's, District Attorney Dan May started as a prosecutor in the 4th Judicial District. He never thought he would still be working in the office decades later, and much less, as the district attorney for both El Paso County and Teller County. But now, May has shaped the way the office operates, and sat down to discuss his long career as he terms out of the position.
May was elected district attorney in 2008. When asked about his proudest accomplishments, he pointed out the accentuated training implemented under his guidance. He called the training the best in the entire Centennial State. "We need to make sure our people are competent and confident when they get into district court. What does that take? So, we now have requirements that you have to do at least 15 trials before you can be considered to leave county court. You have to do ride-alongs with our law enforcement to learn this community, of at least 20 hours... I also require if you're going to be promoted in this office, you have to be active in this community... We have one of the best prosecution teams in the entire state of Colorado, and quite frankly, in the nation," said May.
"I am preparing people to take on some of the top cases in this country and some of the top defense attorneys in this entire country, and I think this community can feel that we're prepared to do that."
May said he made some mistakes during his decades as a prosecutor, and has a few regrets that stand out in his mind. He remembered back to when he first was starting out, and had a strong record for winning rape or sexual assault cases. However, he lost one he will never forget. May said the victim in the case was crushed by the outcome, in part because she did not expect it at all. "Quite frankly, I failed by trying that case and losing and not having prepared her, I failed her. And I still feel that way today," said May.
One of the most high profile cases of May's career is much more recent. Woodland Park was shaken when Kelsey Berreth disappeared in November of 2018. "Emotionally, that's one of the toughest cases I've ever done. That was because you were hoping to find her alive," explained May.
A jury found Patrick Frazee guilty of the murder of Kelsey Berreth in November of 2019. "Justice would have been bringing Kelsey back, finding her alive. And I can never fill that void or that hole for them [Berreth's family]. We can give them some justice in knowing that he was held accountable," said May.
May said throughout the case, he and his fellow prosecutors became close with the Berreth family. He even says they exchanged Christmas cards this year. "How many people do you walk into their front room, and right there, placed in the front is a Bible. That's who Kelsey Berreth was. And that's the family she comes from. I worry about what's going to happen to her daughter. Her daughter's going to know that her father killed her mother some day," said May, going on to explain he has full trust in the Berreth's to raise her daughter.
May has famously called the deal struck with Krystal Kenney, an Idaho nurse who helped clean up the crime scene, a "deal with the devil." Kenney was sentenced to three years in prison, in exchange for information that put Frazee away for life. "She deserves a lot more sentence than she got, but because of turning that deal, Patrick Frazee's held accountable, and in the end, he's the one who did the murder," said May.
The Woodland Park Police Department investigated Berreth's murder, and the Teller County Sheriff's Office played a supportive role throughout the process. Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell said May acts as a mentor to law enforcement during cases like this. Sheriff Mikesell said there is a great amount of trust between his office and the 4th Judicial District, and he would not want to send his investigations to anyone else to prosecute. "The facts are always going to show the truth, especially if the prosecutor knows what he is doing. And the good thing about Dan May is he knows what he's doing," said Sheriff Mikesell.
News5 also asked May about the delays in courtrooms caused by COVID-19. "What I worry about is what happens to the lower level cases, when we start getting way too backed up, because that's the one that could be lost in the shuffle," said May.
May went on to say he believes the 4th Judicial District is prepared for any backlog of cases, and has worked hard to keep courtrooms open as much as possible, while also transitioning to online platforms.
May reiterated that his office did not prosecute businesses for violating public health guidelines, and that the state is responsible for any licensing issues. "I was asked, will you prosecute restaurants that open? I said no, I will not. I'm not looking to criminalize people during this period, that they have a criminal record for the rest of their life," said May.
This year also experienced increased scrutiny on law enforcement, but May said the 4th Judicial District was ahead of the curve. Even before it was required that an outside agency investigate an officer-involved shooting, May said his office was in charge of those. He also said they began providing public reports of these investigations before the law mandated it. "We have direct accountability, we have transparency, and we have independent investigations here, and I think our community can be proud of that," said May.
May said it has been his honor to serve the community. He officially retires on January 11, 2021. Michael Allen, the new district attorney, will take over after that.