Murderers' Row

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

That July afternoon, Ginny was home with her two toddlers when Becky Fincham, a neighbor, called to say she had some children's clothes to give her. She also wanted to know if Ginny's husband was home. When Ginny said no, he wasn't, Fincham said she'd be right over. She didn't mention that her husband, Gary Davis, would be coming.

Fincham had met Davis, a convicted sex offender, after writing to him in prison. Once Davis got out, he'd become obsessed with acting on a violent sexual fantasy. Over the past weeks, the couple had tried to approach other women, but one thing or another -- the sudden appearance of a husband or ranch hand -- had scared them off.

Now, as Ginny, her daughter and Fincham emerged from the house, Davis punched Ginny in the face; his wife told the little girl to go back inside. What occurred next was confused by the couple's changing stories, but Davis raped, or attempted to rape, Ginny in the back of the car while his wife drove to a secluded field. Stripped of her clothes, with a rope tied around her neck, Ginny was dragged from the car. Davis then raped, or attempted to rape her again -- using a knife to coerce her into submission -- after which Ginny was forced to perform oral sex on Fincham.

Pat Tuthill carried this picture of her daughter at the trial of Peyton's murderer, Donta Page.
Pat Tuthill carried this picture of her daughter at the trial of Peyton's murderer, Donta Page.


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

During the ordeal, Ginny fought and pleaded for her life, even offering the couple money to let her live. Instead, Davis struck her in the head with the butt of a .22 caliber rifle, fracturing her skull. The blow didn't kill her, though, and she was able to raise her hands in futile defense when Davis and/or Fincham -- their stories were contradictory -- aimed the rifle and fired. Ginny was shot fourteen times in the head, chest and pubic area. The killers covered her body with a bale of hay and went home.

For two days, Ginny's family, friends and neighbors searched for her. Davis and Fincham were immediate suspects after Ginny's husband returned to find the children alone and his daughter told him, "Becky took her." But the couple denied knowing anything and even offered to help look for Ginny.

Late in the afternoon of the second day, the sheriff told Ginny's folks that they'd located her body. Rod MacLennan had been hoping against all reason that his daughter would be found alive; he just couldn't understand how anyone could do such a thing to a young woman who'd never harmed anybody in her life.

Davis and Fincham were arrested and charged with Ginny May's murder. Exactly one year after the killing, with Adams County chief deputy district attorneys Bob Grant and John Coates prosecuting the case, Davis was convicted of kidnapping and first-degree murder after deliberation. He'd torpedoed his own defense by climbing on the witness stand -- against the advice of his attorney, Craig Truman -- to confess to everything. Although he'd claimed the opposite earlier, he now insisted that his wife, who had already been convicted and sentenced to life, was not at fault; he blamed alcoholism for his conduct. The death-penalty hearing began immediately. Within three hours, the jury sentenced Davis to die.

Rod MacLennan thought the sentence was just. He'd always believed in the death penalty, but until Ginny's murder, his belief had been philosophical. Now he wanted to see for himself the execution of the man who'd killed his daughter.

He couldn't have imagined then how long he would have to wait.

The late 1980s and early '90s saw significant changes in the application of Colorado's death-penalty statute. In 1988, the state changed its method of execution from the gas chamber to lethal injection. Proponents said it was more humane; opponents pointed out that the procedure had been botched in states already using lethal injection.

But Colorado was a long way from carrying out a death sentence by any means.

In 1988, Michael Tenneson, 28, went on trial in Denver District Court, charged with two counts of first-degree murder after deliberation for the 1987 deaths of Jeffrey Sheffield, 23, and Mitchell Gonzales, 22.

Before the trial had even gotten under way, Tenneson confessed to three more murders in Wisconsin. He'd broken into a home, shot and killed its owner, killed the owner's mother, then killed the owner's girlfriend. But he wasn't confessing because of a sudden attack of conscience: He hoped to be extradited back to Wisconsin, where there was no death-penalty statute.

Denver wanted him first, though. Little was again on the case. Through his attorneys, Tenneson tried to claim that Sheffield had attempted to rob him after a night of drinking and snorting cocaine. But the prosecution proved that Gonzales and Sheffield had been murdered in their sleep. Although the Denver jurors hadn't yet been told of the Wisconsin murders, they easily convicted Tenneson of two counts of first-degree murder after deliberation.

At Tenneson's death-penalty hearing, his Wisconsin confession came into play, as did a previous conviction for raping an elderly woman.

The defense attorneys brought in a psychologist who testified that Tenneson suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome; the result was a "serious personality defect" that impaired the defendant's ability to tell right from wrong. The syndrome wasn't enough to save him from prosecution, his lawyers argued, but enough that Tenneson should be sentenced to life in prison, not death. The prosecution brought in its own psychologist, however, who testified that even if Tenneson were a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome, which he doubted, it wouldn't have caused him to murder people.

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