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New Mexico Corrections Department hires convicted murderer

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — An ex-convict who terrorized a couple in southwestern New Mexico, leading to the woman’s death, is the first participant in a new state-run inmate transition program.

The Department of Corrections recently hired 40-year-old David VanHorn as a cook at a Santa Fe state prison kitchen. He is the lead cook supervisor and serves staff and corrections cadets.

Corrections secretary Gregg Marcantel said VanHorn was chosen for the pilot initiative to help released inmates settle into life outside prison because of positive behavior. Since his time in prison, VanHorn says he received counseling and earned two associate degrees.

“He’s coming back to the community, whether anybody likes it or not, and we’re trying to work a better public safety policy,” Marcantel said.

VanHorn earns $17 an hour, more than some rookie corrections officers at the prison, though as a contract worker he will have to purchase his own insurance, a benefit prison employees receive as part of their compensation.

His salary comes from the Corrections Industries fund. Money from inmates selling furniture, jewelry and vegetables supplies the fund.

Van Horn was released May 28 from the state penitentiary in Santa Fe, KRQE-TV in Albuquerque reported (http://bit.ly/1SE1jgq ).

In May 1995, a 20-year-old VanHorn, who was living in Arizona and an accomplice ransacked the home of Norma and Merlin Clouse in Virden, New Mexico, before setting it on fire. Merlin Clouse escaped but could not get his wife, who had recently undergone surgery, out of the building. Norma Clouse later died. VanHorn also shot and wounded two deputies who were searching a canyon for the victims’ vehicle.

VanHorn said he realized five years into his 20-year murder sentence that he had to change. “I knew if I left prison the exact same way I came in, there’s nothing good that’s going to come of it,” he said.

Norma Clouse’s son told KRQE-TV that he wishes Van Horn would remain imprisoned.

VanHorn said he is not the same “self-centered” addict he was 20 years ago.

He will be supervised by the state and on probation for two years. Officials will consider whether to expand the program.

VanHorn said it could help keep other ex-cons from reoffending.

“I want to see a program like this succeed, not just for myself,” he said. “But because those guys I talked about who came back time after time and time again, a lot of them couldn’t find jobs.”

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Information from: KRQE-TV, http://www.krqe.com

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