Articles > Lacy Miller's death


 

Last August, Lacy Jo Miller would have celebrated her 30th birthday.

Maybe she would still live in Fort Collins, as she did for most of her life. Maybe she would have graduated from the University of Northern Colorado, where she studied education. Maybe she would have followed in her mother's footsteps to become a teacher. Maybe she would have had a wedding. Maybe she would have become a mother.

Lacy's family and friends have never been able to celebrate any of those milestones. Instead, they now mark 10 years since the 20-year-old was abducted and murdered.

Not that the 10 year mark means much to her mother, Wendy Cohen. She tracks the time differently: it's been 3,650 days since she last saw her daughter.

"Sometimes it feels like yesterday, sometimes it feels like 100 years ago," Cohen said. "Time doesn't mean the same thing when you lose someone you're that close to ... there's not a day or a minute that goes by that I don't think about her."

Lacy was last seen early in the morning on Jan. 18, 2003. She had pizza and a night out with friends then dropped a friend off and started driving about three miles to her house in southwest Fort Collins, where she lived with her mom and stepfather.

Ten years ago this week, family, friends and members of law enforcement officers launched a search for Lacy that ended tragically on Jan. 26, 2003, when her body was discovered in the Poudre Canyon.

Jason Clausen pleaded guilty to the murder and is serving a life sentence.

Larimer County District Attorney Cliff Riedel prosecuted the case as then-deputy district attorney.

"The Lacy Miller case was obviously a horrific crime and the way her family handled it with such grace and dignity has always had a lasting effect on me," he said.

Clausen, who was 22 years old at the time, posed as a police officer to pull Lacy over. Two weeks before Lacy's death, he had been caught with police items including blue and red flashing lights.

Authorities were unable to confiscate those lights because at the time, there was no law in Colorado that allowed them to. Believing that if those lights had been confiscated that her daughter would still be alive, Cohen began a crusade to pass legislation to make possession of police lights illegal and strengthen laws against impersonating an officer.

Nine years after Lacy's Law was passed in Colorado, Cohen's work still continues.

"We're trying to get it to be illegal to impersonate a police officer across the country," Cohen said. "There needs to be standardized laws around impersonation."

When Lacy died, only four states in the United States had a felony law against impersonating an officer. Now there are more -- people who knew Lacy in other states or heard her story pushed for similar legislation -- but the number of states with a felony law is still less than half.

Cohen has begun to work with U.S. Sen. Mark Udall's office on national legislation. She also hopes for a national registry that tracks everyone convicted of the crime.

While she's pleased with Colorado's law, Cohen said she's been disappointed that those with an impersonating an officer charge are able to plea the charge down.

Riedel estimates that since Lacy's Law took effect in 2004, Larimer County has seen 25 cases where a suspect has been prosecuted under the law, but he said that each is handled on a case-by-case basis.

Through 2 Hearts, the Lacy Jo Miller Foundation, Cohen also advocates for safety education.

"Sometimes people don't think they need safety education," she said. "I don't get to have the illusion that the world is safe."

She's working with Nicole Sundine, a former Denver Police officer, on curriculum that Cohen hopes can be implemented across the country. It takes a focus on the common sense things a person needs in order to prevent an attack and then to survive one -- paying attention to your surroundings, listening to your instincts -- things that Cohen believes if Lacy had known, she might still be alive.

Jessica Maher