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Murderer's Row

Two years ago, a deadlocked jury saved Thomas luther from the death penalty. But the legacy of his crimes continues.

It was Rhonda's husband, Van, who had known and loved Cher since she was a child, who erected the memorial outside Empire.

The greatest fear of Luther's victims--those who survived and the families of those who did not--is that somehow he will win an appeal and be let out on the streets again.

After the Jeffco verdict, lobbyist Marilyn Lang joined forces with Earl Elder and Rhonda Edwards to try to win support for overturning the unanimous verdict requirement.

They knew it would be difficult. Many in the legal system, including some prosecutors, believe that a unanimous verdict protects innocent people from going to prison. And even among those who want to change the law, there are differences. Some say the majority should rule--or, at least, a single juror shouldn't; others say that a judge should have more leeway in replacing a juror--not because he disagrees with the majority, but because he refuses to participate in the process.

State senator Dick Mutzebaugh promised that in the 1997 legislative session, he would at least issue a resolution calling for a study of the law and of states that have already dropped the unanimous-verdict rule, Lang says. "We kept hoping right up to the last minute," she adds, "but we ran out of time."

Now Mutzebaugh, who has indicated that he wants to run for attorney general, isn't willing to get involved with such a controversial topic, according to Lang. (Mutzebaugh did not return Westword's calls.)

Now Lang and Earl Elder are counting on Representative Russell George, who represents the area in which Cher's paternal grandmother, Mary Elder, lives. "It's been on my calendar," George says. "I spoke to Mary and affirmed that I would do what I can."

But there are more pressing issues at the legislature, he adds, and gathering support will be a long and arduous task.

Earl Elder isn't holding out much hope that the law will be changed. "Too many of those guys are up for re-election or looking for another position to want to take this on," he says.

Too many people have no idea what he's gone through--not that Earl would wish his experience on anyone else.

After Tom Luther was sentenced for his daughter's murder, Earl joined a support group for parents of murdered children. But he doesn't go to meetings much anymore. The others there dwell more on the past; he'd rather remember his daughter in peace.

"We were lucky," he says. "We had Scott Richardson. I was struck by how many people in the group had bad experiences with, and even blame, the cops and the system."

But Cher's killer is in jail. And Earl Elder wants to see that he says there. "I'm determined," he says, "that I will live at least long enough to make sure that Thomas Luther never leaves prison again, except in a box."

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