By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
"Even a wretched life means something," he implored the judges. "Even a wretched life can change. I do not want to die, for I know I've turned around."
However, if the judges decided he should die, Neal said, "I will submit fully...remembering special moments" with his victims.
In his opening, Tingle hadn't really outlined the aggravators the state would try to prove. So now Neal did it for him. The crime was "especially heinous, cruel and depraved," he said. "That's an accurate assessment."
He'd killed two or more people by "lying in wait." True. He'd "intentionally" killed two or more people with "universal malice and extreme indifference to the value of human life." True. He'd killed a kidnapped person. True. He'd killed to prevent prosecution. True: "That's what precipitated the whole thing." And he'd killed for monetary gain. "Yes," he concluded, "all of the aggravating factors are present."
As for mitigators, Neal said, there were only three, starting with his age. Although he was 42 at the time of the crime, his troubled past had left him "a child...hiding and stalking...scared of being punished for what he had been doing and what he had become." As a result, he could not "appreciate the wrongfulness" of his conduct," he said, then added, "I knew that what I was going to do was wrong and chose to do it anyway." Only halfheartedly, he contended that he might have been under "unusual and substantial duress" at the time of the crimes. "I've been through a lot of tough times in my life, but I don't see it."
After that, Neal's opening, the hearing moved quickly. Tingle and Bachmeyer presented the evidence of the crimes. Neal's rape victim took the stand and bravely recounted the horrors of her ordeal. Through it all, Neal sat listening, declining to cross-exam the witnesses, while his counsel, Canney, sat silently stewing. When it came time to present his case for mitigation, Neal called only a few witnesses, including Byron Plumley, an adjunct professor of religion at Regis University, who testified that Neal's conversion seemed genuine.
On September 29, 1999, the three judges returned with their verdict. In their deliberations, they had determined that the state had proved all of its aggravators. Then they'd rejected all of Neal's mitigators. More than that, they'd rejected everything Neal had to say for himself.
They didn't believe that he'd been sexually assaulted. They doubted his remorse: "William Neal is so self-absorbed that his capacity for remorse is questionable," they determined. Even his religious conversion "is suspect given the timing.
"William Neal claims to be a changed man and, therefore, requests mercy. William Neal cannot point to the past as a basis for mercy but asks the panel to trust him in his promise toward the future. This panel is unwilling to do so. The panel relies upon the past as the best predictor of the future. William Neal's plea rings hollow in light of his past deceits and evil deeds."
Judge Anderson read the verdict as Neal stared straight ahead. The "only penalty for the brutal, needless killing visited upon these kind and lovely ladies," the judge pronounced, "is death."
A few minutes later, Canney stood in the hallway outside the courtroom. "I don't know if Cody is so wrought with guilt that he felt he had to represent himself," he told reporters. "It may be part of his mental illness."
The victims' families gathered downstairs. "This brings some closure, but it does not bring back my mom, Angela or Rebecca," Holly Walters said.
"This is not going to be over for us for a very, very long time," said Wayne Fite, Angela's father.
Both said they planned to attend Neal's execution. "To the end," added Wayne. "To the end," echoed Holly.
In December 1999, David Kaplan was appointed to what he called "the best job in the world" -- heading the state public defender's office. He'd worked as a public defender from 1983 to 1987 before leaving for private practice. Now he would oversee a staff of 200 trial lawyers, 21 appellate attorneys, 62 investigators and 51 office workers, with 21 offices statewide serving indigent clients. It was one of the most aggressive and well-financed public-defender systems in the country.
Kaplan replaced David Vela, who'd chosen not to seek reappointment. The new chief told the Denver Post that it had been his boyhood dream to become a criminal defense lawyer after reading attorney F. Lee Bailey's The Defense Never Rests.
When people asked how he could defend killers and rapists such as Francisco Martinez, Kaplan said he would tell them, "Humanity is in every person we defend. People are rarely 100 percent evil." One of his agency's main roles was to keep the power of government in check, he said. He also hoped to see death-penalty decisions taken away from three-judge panels and returned to jurors.
Kaplan wasn't the only one dissatisfied with the panels.
A month before George Woldt was scheduled to go on trial in March 2000, the legislature was considering two dueling bills. As promised, state senator Ray Powers had introduced a measure that would give sentencing responsibilities to a single trial judge. The "will of the people" was being subverted, the lawmaker said, since with the panels a single individual could circumvent justice and the will of the majority.