Detective’s Son Sentenced to Death in 1995 for Rape and Murder; Verdict Later Overturned for Improper Jury Conduct

A icy and dark road flanked by tall trees.
Robert Harlan kidnapped, raped and murdered waitress Rhonda Maloney in 1994 on an icy Colorado road after rear-ending her car. While his original death sentence didn’t stick because of jury misconduct, Harlan was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. / Image courtesy Sindre Strøm via Pexels.

It seemed to be straight out of a movie. 

A good samaritan drives by on an icy road and sees a man and woman next to two stopped cars on the side of the road. The woman looks fearful so the samaritan stops to pick her up. The woman says the man rear-ended her car and abducted her, raping her for hours before the samaritan saw them. As the samaritan desperately speeds away on the icy roads, the man catches up to them in his car and shoots at them both through the windows. The samaritan is gravely injured and the man drags the woman away. 

But the story isn’t fictional — the horrific events happened to Rhonda Maloney and Jaquie Creazzo in February 1994 in Colorado. The killer, Robert Harlan, was the 31-year-old son of a Denver detective according to the Associated Press in September 1995

In 1995, Harlan was sentenced to death plus 144 years in prison for kidnapping, aggravated assault and assault with a deadly weapon. But the sentence didn’t stick. 

In December 2005, the Denver Post reported, “Harlan escaped execution after the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a ruling that jurors in the case improperly consulted the Bible during deliberation.” Reportedly, the jury had pulled out copies of the Bible and quoted portions of the Old Testament verses that called for justice to be carried out “eye for an eye.” 

The Denver Post reported Adams County District Judge Scott Crabtree told Harlan he disagreed with the judicial system in this case but that his hands were tied in the resentencing. 

Maloney’s sister, Kerri Gemeinhardt, has been outspoken in her advocacy for Harlan’s continued imprisonment but expressed to the Denver Post that she was disappointed his original sentence didn’t stick. 

The Broomfield Enterprise in May 1994 published a reader-submitted comment about Harlan’s initial treatment in court. Patrick Mercer submitted a comment to the editors noting that Harlan gave the court system the run around during an arraignment on May 5, asking to be returned to the jail to change into civilian clothes before returning and requesting for a different arraignment day to be arranged. 

Mercer wrote to the Enterprise, “Harlan is a criminal. So, let’s be serious about this. Where is the victim or victim’s family’s rights? Do we need to get in trouble to have rights? Harlan never gave Rhonda Maloney rights to change her clothes. What is justice?”

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