A Colorado jury has returned a life sentence in the capital trial of Dexter Lewis in the stabbing deaths of 5 people in a Denver bar in 2012. After less than 3 hours of deliberation, the jury determined that the aggravating factors relating to the killing did not outweigh Lewis’ mitigating evidence detailing the extensive history of abuse and neglect in his upbringing, including chronic alcohol abuse by his mother while she was pregnant and nearly daily beatings when he was a child. The defense also presented mental health evidence of the long-term effects of severe child abuse. After the verdict, Prosecutor Joe Morales (pictured, left) called the verdict “a great day for justice” and said the prosecutors “respect [the verdict] wholeheartedly.” He added that “if you cannot get 12 people to agree beyond a reasonable doubt that a person should lose their life for their crimes, then it should not be imposed…. No criticism [of the verdict] needs to come from anyone who did not sit day in and day out in that courtroom. Period.” No Denver jury has sentenced a defendant to death since 1986. Colorado has had no executions since 1997 and is one of four states that has placed a moratorium on executions. Governor Hickenloper has called for a statewide “conversation” about the death penalty. The sentence comes in the wake of a string of life sentences imposed in other high profile capital cases after long and expensive trials.

On August 7, another Colorado jury rejected the death penalty in the six-month trial of James Holmes for the killings of 12 people in an Aurora movie theatre. 9 jurors ceased attempts to persuade 3 hold-out jurors to vote for death in that case when one of those jurors said she would vote for life because of Holmes’ serious mental illness. Weeks earlier, a Kings County, Washington, jury took one hour to return a life sentence for another mentally ill and delusional capital defendant, Christopher Monfort, in the murder of a Seattle police officer, and in May another Kings County jury spared Joseph McEnroe in the murder of 6 members of his girlfriend’s family.

(J. Steffen & M. Nussbaum, “Dexter Lewis gets life sentence in Fero’s Bar massacre,”The Denver Post, August 27, 2015; “Denver District Attorneys react to the life sentence for Dexter Lewis,” Denver Post TV, August 27, 2015; Associated Press,”Denver Bar Killer Dexter Lewis Will be Sentenced to Life,” August 27, 2015.) See Life Without Parole and Mental Illness. Image from Denver Post TV.