Former Denver Chief Deputy District Attorney Craig Silverman recently wrote about why he changed his mind about supporting the death penalty and expressed new fears regarding its future use. His op-ed was published on August 29, 2023 in the Colorado Sun. Mr. Silverman writes that capital punishment was a prominent issue in his campaign for Denver District Attorney, and he himself prosecuted death penalty cases and publicly supported its use.  But he writes that he now has “newfound support for abolishing capital punishment” for reasons he characterizes as “personal.”  

In 2015, Mr. Silverman advocated for capital punishment in the case of the Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes, who was eventually sentenced to life in prison without parole.  At the time, Mr. Silverman predicted that “failure to seek or obtain capital punishment for [Mr. Holmes] could kill Colorado’s death penalty.” In 2020, Colorado abolished the use death penalty.

Turning to his concerns about the politicization of the death penalty, Mr. Silverman explains that he fears the promises by some presidential candidates to expand use of the death penalty for more than murder.  Referencing former President Donald Trump’s remarks regarding promised executions for drug-offenses, Mr. Silverman says that “capital punishment, on a mass scale, has been the revenge favored by tyrants throughout history.” Other presidential candidates have also invoked use of the death penalty.  After the August 26, 2023, mass shooting at a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida, former Vice President Mike Pence called for an “expedited due process of [the] federal death penalty.”  According to VP Pence, “we’ve got to send a message to anyone that has evil in their hearts that there is no chance for them to spend the rest of their life behind bars, that they’re going to meet their fate in months, not years.”  

Mr. Silverman concludes by warning that “authoritarianism and prosecution are a terrible mix.” 


Craig Silverman, Silverman: I’m a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor who fought for the death penal­ty. Why I’ve changed my mind., The Colorado Sun, August 29, 2023; Chris Walker, Pence Criticized Over calls for Expedited” Death Penalty for Mass Shooter, Truthout, August 282023.

Image cred­it: Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://​cre​ativecom​mons​.org/​l​i​c​e​n​s​e​s​/​b​y​-​s​a/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons