Colorado Criminal Verdicts and the Death Penalty

There have been guilty verdicts in two horrific crimes in Colorado not resulting in the death penalty that has caused the Denver Post to publish editorials questioning that penalty. The first crime involved a gunman (I won’t dignify him by giving his name) who set off tear gas grenades and shot into a crowded movie audience with multiple firearms. He killed 12, including a 6 year old girl, and wounded 70. He passively allowed himself to be arrested. The jury did not buy his insanity plea and convicted him of murder. However, the jury could not reach a unanimous decision that his penalty should be death, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The sentence actually was one life sentence for each person he killed and an additional 3,318 years for those he wounded and rigging his apartment with explosives. He apparently had wanted to kill those he knew would respond to his actions while they searched his apartment.

The other case involved the stabbing death of five people in a Denver bar followed by arson to destroy evidence. The motive for the crimes was a robbery that resulted in the theft of $170 dollars and resulted in five dead stabbing victims. Two brothers pled guilty to the crimes. One was sentenced to 70 years in prison and the other was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The third man accused was tried for murder, and the prosecution sought the death penalty. The jury was once again unable to reach the unanimous verdict of death required to impose that penalty.

Denver Post editorials have questioned whether there is any logical basis for the death penalty if these two horrific crimes do not qualify. What crime could he sufficiently horrific to qualify them for the death penalty if these two crimes did not? The most recent editorial presents the opinion, “The death penalty in Colorado has effectively expired.”

Jurors in both cases had testified during selection that they could impose the death penalty. Either they were less than honest (i.e., they lied), or they were influenced by the killer’s mental state in the first case and the abuse of the second killer as a child. I assure those making future jury selections that I would be willing to sentence someone to death if deserved by their crimes. My reasoning is simple. Behave as a human being and be protected from the death sentence. Behave inhumanely and suffer the consequences. I think both the theatre shooter and the bar murderer behaved inhumanely and escaped the logical circumstances, although I freely admit I did not listen to the full body of evidence in lengthy trials presented to those who decided otherwise.

One thought on “Colorado Criminal Verdicts and the Death Penalty

  1. The Denver Post is notoriously liberal when it comes to criminal punishment. I pay them no mind in this situation, as the general public in Colorado, at least, is still strongly in favor of the death penalty. The lone holdout juror in the Aurora Theater shooting obviously was not truthful about her ability to impose capital punishment, perhaps not even to herself. Having said that, the juror or jurors in the Fero Bar killings may have been swayed by the fact that the witnesses against him were all accomplices who copped pleas in return for sentencing considerations. Who gets charged with murder one? The unfortunate guy whose buddies all turn on him to save themselves. Under those circumstances I would have had a problem sending him to the needle. As far as his happy childhood, I’m reminded of the Menendez brothers, who you may recall brutally murdered their parents and then essentially pleaded for mercy because they were orphans.

    There have been multiple, mostly well-reasoned efforts to streamline the appeal process in capital murder cases. The most recent set strict evidentiary guidelines, such as multiple reliable eyewitnesses (not stoolie accomplices) and separate forensic investigations, which, if met, would limit the defense to one appeal. Lobbying by the ACLU and such like have derailed all of them. The Aurora shooter, by any rules of evidence, was guilty enough to die. But even if the jury had agreed our esteemed Governor is likely to have commuted that sentence as he did for The Chucky Cheeze killer. Too bad nobody asked the Brewmaster-in-Chief for his thoughts on capital punishment before we ushered him into the Governor’s mansion.

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