NEW VOICES: Colorado District Attorney Says Death Penalty Costly, Time Consuming, and Unfair

In a recent op-ed in Colorado's Daily Camera, Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett expressed his concerns about the death penalty, as the state prepares to consider its repeal. Garnett said, "[T]he practical problems with the death penalty make it of limited relevance to Colorado law enforcement." He pointed to the high costs of capital cases, the time required to prosecute, and the randomness of its application as major concerns: "Prosecuting a death penalty case through a verdict in the trial court can cost the prosecution well over $1 million dollars .... my total operating budget for this office is $4.6 million and with that budget we prosecute 1,900 felonies, per year." He estimated that the appellate costs are even greater--up to $18 million through all the appeals. Geographic disparities in applying Colorado's death penalty raise questions of fairness: "Though Boulder County has had plenty of heinous murders over the years, there has never been a death verdict imposed here in the nearly 140 years since statehood," he wrote. Meanwhile, he noted, counties with similar crimes have a number of pending capital cases. Read the entire op-ed below.

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STUDIES: Colorado's Death Penalty Rarely Applied and Arbitrary

A new study conducted by law professors Justin Marceau (left) and Sam Kamin (middle) of the University of Denver and Wanda Foglia (right) of Rowan University found that the death penalty in Colorado is applied so rarely as to render the system unconstitutional.  The authors concluded that Colorado's death penalty law is applicable to almost all first-degree murders, but is imposed so infrequently that it fails to provide the kind of careful narrowing of cases required by the Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia (1972).  In this groundbreaking study, the researchers reviewed all first-degree murder cases in the state between 1999 and 2010. They found that 92 percent of the 544 first-degree murder cases in that time span contained at least one aggravating factor that made the defendant eligible for the death penalty. However, prosecutors filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty in only 15 murder cases and pursued the death penalty at trial in only five of those cases — a 1% rate among death-eligible cases. The authors wrote, “Under the Colorado capital sentencing system, many defendants are eligible but almost none are actually sentenced to death. Because Colorado's aggravating factors so rarely result in actual death sentences, their use in any given case is a violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

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The Angolite Tells the Story of a Wrongful Execution in Colorado

A recent issue of The Angolite, a magazine published by prison inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, highlights the story of Joe Arridy, who was executed in 1939 in Colorado. Arridy was sentenced to death in 1937 for the murder and sexual assault of a teenage girl. After his execution, facts pointing to Arridy’s innocence gradually emerged. New evidence showed that he had been coerced into giving a false confession, that he was not in town at the time of the crime, and that another person had admitted to committing the crime. In addition, Arridy had an IQ of 46, and was easily led by police. One psychiatrist, Dr. B.L. Jefferson, testified that Arridy had the mind of a child of about six years old and was not capable in aiding in his defense or of giving a reliable confession. On death row, Arridy spent his days playing with toys and requested ice cream for his last three meals. Witnesses say he stepped into the gas chamber still grinning like a little boy.  On January 7, 2011, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter granted Arridy a full and unconditional posthumous pardon.

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