Understanding the death penalty in Colorado begins with John Stoefel. When Stoefel was hanged in the state of Colorado in 1859, the history of the Colorado death penalty began. Hanging continued to be the method of choice for executions in the state until the mid-1930’s, when lethal gas became the newest execution method. Finally, in 1988, the state of Colorado began using lethal injection for those sentenced to death. The most infamous Colorado death penalty cases are likely the two which did not culminate in a death. James Holmes, the man who gunned down 12 people in a Colorado movie theater, injuring dozens more, initially offered a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence rather than the death penalty.
The plea was rejected by the prosecution, who did ask for the death penalty. Holmes then pled not guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect. While the jury refused to allow the insanity claim, three jurors could not be persuaded to impose the death penalty on Holmes. The second Colorado death penalty case which did not result in death was that of Dexter Lewis. Lewis was accused of stabbing five people in a Denver bar; the jury took into consideration the neglect and abuse in Lewis’ childhood, sentencing him to life in prison. There are currently three people in the state of Colorado awaiting execution, although one has been granted an indefinite stay of execution.
Colorado Takes a Look at Death Penalty Issues in Arkansas
Colorado abolished the death penalty in 1897, reinstating it just four years later. The Colorado Department of Corrections automatically places those sentenced to death to administrative segregation, or solitary confinement. Death row inmates are housed in the “supermax” prison in the state, the Colorado State Penitentiary. All 734 death row inmates are isolated—locked down for 23 hours per day with no outdoor exercise. Rather these inmates receive one hour per day in a cell with concrete walls, no windows, and only a chin-up bar. Recent challenges to the death penalty in the state of Arkansas, largely due to concerns regarding one of the lethal injection drugs, have resulted in other states, including Colorado, taking a hard look at their death penalty policies. In 2013, the Governor noted that “If the State of Colorado is going to undertake the responsibility of executing a human being, the system must operate flawlessly.”
Further Reading: Prosecuting Child Sex Assault in Boulder
Factors Which Can Result in the Colorado Death Penalty
Colorado has put 101 people to death, the last more than 20 years ago in Canon City in 1997. All of those executed were male, and all of them were convicted of killing another person. In fact, although the state has the ability to impose and carry out the death penalty, they seldom exercise this ability. Only class I felony cases are eligible for the death penalty, and only those cases which involve kidnapping, treason or certain murders. In general, the prosecutor in a case must be prove at least one aggravating factor for the death penalty to be applied.
- Extreme indifference to human life
- The death of a child under age 12
- Using dynamite or other explosive devices
- The death of a judge, elected official, Federal law enforcement agent, EMT, firefighter, or peace officer.
- Monetary gain
- Particularly cruel, depraved or heinous conduct
The death penalty continues to be an extremely controversial subject in the state of Colorado, and across the nation. The Innocence Project has proven that a number of inmates on death row were actually innocent. Because of this, many people do not believe the death penalty should exist in any state and would like to see it abolished. Still others hold with the old adage of “an eye for an eye,” and believe the death penalty should be imposed when the actions of the defendant meet any of the factors above.
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If you or someone you love is facing serious criminal charges, it is important to have an aggressive and experienced Boulder criminal defense lawyer on your side from the very start. Contact the Boulder criminal defense lawyers at Steven Louth Law Offices today for a free consultation and review of your case. Call us at (303) 422-2297 to start building a solid defense against these serious criminal charges.