Colorado

Colorado

Controversial Colorado Case Ends With a Plea and Life Sentence

Edward Montour, the defendant accused of killing correctional officer Eric Autobee (pictured) in a Colorado prison, agreed to plead guilty on March 6 to first degree murder in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. Autobee's family had opposed the prosecution's decision to seek the death penalty for Montour, standing in witness in front of the courthouse during jury selection, and asking the judge to allow them to testify at the trial. Montour pled guilty to the crime in 2003 and was sentenced to death by a judge, but his conviction was overturned when an appellate court ruled the jury needed to be involved in sentencing to death. At his second trial, Montour initially pled not guilty by reason of insanity, arguing that he was wrongfully convicted of the crime that first put him in prison, and that his mental illness had gotten worse in prison. Montour was serving a life sentence for killing his 11-week-old daughter, though evidence recently emerged indicating she might have died from an accident.

Victim's Family Opposed to Death Penalty Meets Resistance from Colorado Prosecutor

The parents of a slain corrections officer in Colorado have asked to testify in opposition to a death sentence for their son's alleged killer, but prosecutors have challenged their right to intervene. Eric Autobee's (pictured) parents say that their son "would not have wanted someone killed in his name." Prosecutors maintain Colorado law only allows victim impact statements to discuss the harm that resulted from the crime. The Autobees, in a court filing quoting Colorado law, argue that a victim has the right "to adequately and reasonably express his or her views' regarding 'the type of sentence which should be imposed by the court.'" (emphasis in original). Kate Lowenstein of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights agreed, "Disagreeing with the prosecutor – opposing the death penalty when the prosecutor is seeking a death sentence – should not mean that you are silenced."

NEW VOICES: Victims' Family Members Show Opposition to Death Penalty at Colorado Trial

Family members of murder victims gathered outside a courthouse in Castle Rock, Colorado, in support of Robert Autobee, whose son was murdered, but who opposes the death penalty for the perpetrator. Inside the courthouse, jury selection was underway in the trial of Edward Montour, who is accused of murdering correctional officer Eric Autobee (pictured), Robert's son. Montour originally pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death, but his conviction was overturned, and he has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The District Attorney intends to seek the death penalty if Montour is convicted. Among those joining Autobee outside the court was Tim Ricard--whose wife was also a prison guard killed by an inmate--and a relative of a woman killed by Nathan Dunlap, an inmate on Colorado's death row. Ricard said, "I know my wife wouldn’t want somebody killed." In a recent meeting between Robert Autobee and Montour, Autobee told Montour, “It’s a time for forgiving, and it’s a time to move on." Montour replied, "I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain I caused you and your family for killing your son.”

Withheld Evidence Could Risk Innocent Lives

In a recent op-ed in the Denver Post, Colorado defense attorney David Lane argued that examples of the state withholding important evidence in capital murder cases should be grounds for reconsidering the death penalty: "The death penalty in Colorado is a fatally flawed government program. The alternative is life with no possibility of parole. Jurors for many years have expressed a preference for that severe sanction, which is actually less costly than the death penalty." Lane cited a recent ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals affirming the reversal of David Bueno's first-degree murder conviction, in which a death sentence had been sought, because the state failed to turn over evidence about other suspects. (Lane represents one of the co-defendants in the case.) Neither of the prosecutors responsible was disciplined for this breach of conduct, and one has since been elected the District Attorney of El Paso County. Lane also highlighted the cost to Colorado taxpayers: "[B]ecause of the built-in costs for a death penalty case, likely over $1 million was wasted in a failed effort to kill Bueno." Read the full op-ed below.

COSTS: Death Penalty Cases in Colorado Take Six Times Longer Than Life Sentences

A new study of the cost of the death penalty in Colorado revealed that capital proceedings require six times more days in court and take much longer to resolve than life-without-parole (LWOP) cases. The study, published in the University of Denver Criminal Law Review, found that LWOP cases required an average of 24.5 days of in-court time, while the death-penalty cases required 147.6 days. The authors noted that selecting a jury in an LWOP case takes about a day and a half; in a capital case, jury selection averages 26 days. In measuring the comparative time it takes to go from charging a defendant to final sentencing, the study found that LWOP cases took an average of 526 days to complete; death cases took almost 4 calendar years longer--1,902 days. The study found that even when a death-penalty case ends in a plea agreement and a life sentence, the process takes a year and a half longer than an LWOP case with a trial. The authors, Justin Marceau (pictured) and Hollis Whitson, could find no evidence of deterrence from the state's death penalty and thus concluded, “Our findings are unequivocal: Colorado’s death penalty imposes tremendous costs on taxpayers and its benefits are, at best, speculative, and more likely, illusory.”

Colorado Governor Indefinitely Stays Execution Over Concerns About Flawed System

On May 22, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado granted an indefinite stay of execution to Nathan Dunlap, who was facing execution in August. In his Executive Order, the governor expressed concerns about the state’s death penalty system, calling it flawed and inequitable. He also noted the national trend away from capital punishment, with five states recently voting to repeal the death penalty and other states rarely using it. Hickenlooper stated, “If the State of Colorado is going to undertake the responsibility of executing a human being, the system must operate flawlessly. Colorado’s system for capital punishment is not flawless.” The governor underscored that his decision to grant a reprieve in this case was because of larger objections to the death penalty, and he was not granting clemency to Dunlap. He concluded, “It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives.”

NEW VOICES: Former Prosecutor Calls for Clemency in Upcoming Colorado Execution

The former Chief Deputy District Attorney from the county that prosecuted Nathan Dunlap has called on Colorado's governor to commute his death sentence to life without parole. Richard Bloch (pictured), who prosecuted dozens of homicide cases during his 20 years with the Arapahoe County DA’s office, said he believes the state’s capital punishment system is too broken to implement: “Having worked on many homicides, visited dozens of murder scenes, and, most importantly, spoken to many people who have committed violent actions against others, I understand from personal experience what so many studies show: that there is no evidence whatsoever that the death penalty deters crime and enhances public safety.” Bloch also noted the geographical and racial disparities in the state’s death penalty: all those on death row came from Arapahoe County and all are African American, even though blacks account for only 4.3% of the state’s population. Bloch wrote, “[W]e cannot ignore that the system that sentenced Mr. Dunlap to die is a system in crisis. Colorado can do better; Colorado is better than that.” Read full article below.

EDITORIALS: Colorado Case Raises Doubts About Entire Death Penalty System

Colorado recently set an execution date in August for Nathan Dunlap, who has been convicted of multiple murders. This would be first execution in the state in 16 years. In an editorial, the Aurora Sentinel recommended that the governor spare his life, not because of doubts about his guilt, but because of doubts about other aspects of the process that led to his death sentence: "There is simply too much doubt about the effectiveness of the death penalty. There is too much doubt about whether Dunlap drew the sentence because of his race. There is too much doubt about whether Colorado residents have grown to see how barbaric and expensive it is. There is too much doubt about whether Dunlap’s circumstances, rather than his crimes, brought on a death sentence." The editors concluded an execution would be a step in the wrong direction for Colorado: "To move forward on this case with so much in doubt would only add another tragic crime to those that Dunlap has wrought upon all of us." Read the editorial below.

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