NEW VOICES: Father of Slain Corrections Officer Reverses Course on Death Penalty

In a recent op-ed, the father of slain Colorado corrections officer Eric Autobee (pictured) explained why he no longer supported the death penalty and is working for its repeal. Writing in the Pueblo Chieftain, Bob Autobee, himself a veteran corrections officer, said the pursuit of the death penalty in his son’s case caused an "unspeakable emotional toll" on his family. He  wrote, “Given what I know now, I can no longer support Colorado’s broken death penalty system. What’s more, I will work to end it to ensure that our resources are better used and no family ever has to go through what my wife and I have endured.” A sentence of life in prison, he wrote, would have been a better option: “If the ultimate punishment in our case had been life without parole, my wife and I could be focusing on more important things like our healing and working to stop violence in our prisons.” He suggested using the money spent on the death penalty to make prisons safer for corrections officers: “As a victim’s father who has been trapped in the labyrinth of the death penalty, and after seeing the real misuse of resources, I am begging our elected officials to do away with our broken death penalty system. Colorado can do better by our corrections officials, and we can do much better by victims.” Read the op-ed below.

A terrible burden to victims’ families
By Bob Autobee

I am a veteran corrections officer. No one would ever call me soft on crime. For nearly all of my life, I supported the death penalty.

When my son, corrections officer Eric Autobee, was murdered, I still supported the death penalty and it seemed proper justice that they would seek the ultimate punishment for his offender.

That was the old me, before I learned and experienced how the system really doesn’t work. It has been a nightmare. Given what I know now, I can no longer support Colorado’s broken death penalty system. What’s more, I will work to end it to ensure that our resources are better used and no family ever has to go through what my wife and I have endured.

Justice should be swift. This simply isn’t possible with the death penalty.

Our case is the poster child for this. It has been more than 10 years since Eric was murdered and the case is still being fought. Thousands of hours, millions of dollars, and an unspeakable emotional toll on my family has been poured into the fight for a death sentence.

We still don’t have one.

If we were to get the death penalty, that would be no solution for us. It would simply mark the beginning of the next phase of the process: more appeals, more waiting, and decades down the road, an execution.

I understand the law, and I appreciate the need for us to be thorough, especially when a life is on the line. This thoroughness in death penalty cases means agony for families like mine that can’t move forward because we have to stay vigilant to the process.

If the ultimate punishment in our case had been life without parole, my wife and I could be focusing on more important things like our healing and working to stop violence in our prisons.

More than anything, we don’t want any other parents to ever have to bury their child. By the time we are thinking about punishing, it’s too late. What we need is effective prevention. I’m not so naive as to think we’ll ever completely stop violence, but my experience as a corrections officer makes me certain there are things we could do to make Colorado prisons safer for correction’s officers.

We need to keep maximum-security inmates in maximum-security prisons and insane inmates where they can be treated.

We need more corrections officers in our prisons.

We need better regulations and training.

These things take resources, and instead of spending money on the death penalty, we should ensure these measures are in place. I assure you the threat of the death penalty isn’t nearly as important to keeping our prisons safe as well-trained staff that have all the tools they need to succeed.

There are simple things the state could do — and has a moral obligation to do — that will keep our brave corrections officers safe.

I wish more than anything that the millions of dollars the state used to prosecute and defend our offender’s capital case had instead been invested in making our prisons safer.

As a victim’s father who has been trapped in the labyrinth of the death penalty, and after seeing the real misuse of resources, I am begging our elected officials to do away with our broken death penalty system.

Colorado can do better by our corrections officials, and we can do much better by victims.

I hope that we do.

(B. Autobee, "A terrible burden to victims' families," Pueblo Chieftain, op-ed, February 10, 2013).  See Victims and other New Voices  on the death penalty.