Murderers' Row

Until two years ago, Colorado juries weighed whether men deserved to die. Now judges decide their fate.

Each resident of death row had very little human contact other than meetings with his lawyer and one hour per week with one visitor. They remained in their cells 23 hours a day, with an hour out for exercise or showering.

By now, Frank Rodriguez, whose execution date had come and gone a number of times, symbolized a death-penalty system so mired in paperwork and legal maneuvering that it could not serve its original purpose. And in November 1996, U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel postponed Rodriguez's execution date yet again so that his lawyer, David Lane, could work on another appeal.

Denver Deputy District Attorney Craig Silverman told the Rocky Mountain News that the paperwork for Rodriguez's appeal would create a stack several feel tall. That pile included hundreds of reasons why the defense counsel thought that the verdict should be overturned, and each one required prosecutorial replies to the contrary. Silverman estimated that Rodriguez's appeals would keep him alive until at least 1998.

It was "unconscionable" that Rodriguez hadn't been executed, he said.

That same month, however, a federal appeals court upheld Davis's sentence. By the fall of 1997, he was out of options.

On October 13, 1997, the morning of Davis's execution, Rod MacLennan drove to Cañon City. More than eleven years had passed since his daughter's murder, and he knew that anyone who said time heals all wounds had never had a child raped and killed.

He thought of Ginny often, especially on holidays or her birthday. Or when he saw her kids playing basketball for their high school and thought, Gosh, she would have been so proud.

But he was tired of thinking about Gary Davis. Tired of the appeals, tired of being reminded that Davis was alive while Ginny was dead.

At the prison, MacLennan and the other official execution witnesses were led into a room and seated. A curtain was pulled back, and there, on the other side of the window, was the 53-year-old object of MacLennan's hatred. A minister was with Davis, holding his hand, whispering in his ear. Davis looked drugged, sleepy.

MacLennan couldn't help but think about the difference between this death and the one his daughter had suffered. This wasn't justice. Maybe if Davis had been stripped of his clothes, raped, then dragged into the execution chamber by a rope around his neck and forced to beg for his life before being riddled with bullets -- maybe that would be justice.

Davis turned his head and looked at the witnesses. Then he shut his eyes as though he were going to sleep. How lucky you are, MacLennan thought. I don't feel sorry for you -- not one little bit.

Read more Westword coverage of Colorado's death penalty in Penalty Zone

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