Big-city prosecutor comes to Summit County
Ryan Summerlin March 21, 2013
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series introducing the new attorneys working in the 5th Judicial District.
BRECKENRIDGE – In July 2004, a blue Honda cut off Tommy “TJ” Halfacre in traffic. Angry, he and a friend who was in the car with him decided to follow the car home and rob the driver.
But Carlos Orellana, a Guatemalan immigrant who was working two jobs, didn’t have any money. Halfacre shot him in the head and escaped, leaving the friend to take the fall.
Four years later, the fugitive had been featured on Colorado’s 20 Most Wanted list and more than once on the television show America’s Most Wanted when he was finally captured in Kansas City and returned to Aurora to face charges and deputy district attorney John Franks.
Franks won and Halfacre was sent to prison for the rest of his life.
As a prosecutor, Franks is new to Summit County. But he’s not new to the profession. Summit County’s new deputy DA in charge of felony cases brought 24 years of experience in the urban 18th Judicial District with him when he relocated to Breckenridge in January.
Things are different here, he said.
“It’s a much smaller community,” noted Franks, who was married to his wife at Father Dyer church in Breckenridge nearly 30 years ago. “The caseload is smaller and you can devote more time to individual cases in terms of trying to get a fair result.”
There isn’t as much violent crime in Summit County as there is in Aurora, and certainly not of the kind he dealt with in the Halfacre case, but Franks has already seen some serious cases, helping to resolve two domestic violence cases in recent weeks.
He said he hopes to offer his experience to others in an office where the District Attorney comes from a defense background.
“The law can be very tricky and there’s a lot of things you learn through experience, sometimes technical legal things, sometimes things about how to deal with people,” he said. “They’ve certainly been gracious about asking my opinion on things.”
Franks, 57, is a sixth-generation Coloradan and longtime Front Range resident. His only venture out of the state was for college, when he went as far as Ohio to meet his future wife and earn a degree in English. He always knew he wanted to return home to Denver, but law school wasn’t immediately part of the plan.
“I did things an English major would do, like drive a truck and work in a warehouse,” he jokes. “I liked physical work, but at some stage you decide you want to use that part of your brain. I knew I didn’t want to be working on a cold warehouse floor when I was an old man.”
A job as a clerk for a judge in the late 1980s solidified his decision to go back to school and study law. He attended the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, focusing on prosecution. It hasn’t always been an easy profession. He’s handled cases even a seasoned prosecutor describes as horrible and knows well what it means to interact with people under the worst possible circumstances.
Still, he says, there’s great honor in the work.
“It’s our jobs to do the right thing,” he said. “That’s a pretty great job description.”
The Rocky Mountain News contributed to the reporting of this story.
This story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect a correction. Mr. Franks is 57 years old, not 67 as previously stated.