Shades of Black

Defense attorneys fight to save their clients by comparing them to current residents of death row.

When Defranco took the stand to testify for Salmon's defense, she presented a chart comparing killers like Davis, who'd been executed in 1997, Frank Rodriguez, Robert Harlan, Nathan Dunlap and Francisco "Pancho" Martinez, the only man sent to death row by a panel, as well as the crimes they'd committed, to Lucas Salmon and the murder of Jacine Gielinski. Salmon was young, had not committed other crimes, and therefore did not "fit the profile" of other men on death row, Defranco concluded.

After the defense rested, Jacine's parents were allowed to speak -- although they were limited in the scope of their comments. According to Judge Parish's interpretation of the Colorado Victim's Rights Law, which allows victims or their families to address the court and the defendant, the family could not make recommendations as to what sentence they thought was fair.

Peggy Luiszer, Jacine's mother, was the first to testify; she walked to the front of the courtroom carrying a small box containing her only child's ashes. Before Jacine's death, when she'd learned about murderers like Gary Davis and Nathan Dunlap, heard about their crimes, she'd thought that they didn't deserve to live and that the death penalty was a fitting punishment. But she'd never given capital punishment much thought beyond that.

 
Michael Hogue
 
Jacine Gielinski, a star athlete at Littleton High School, was murdered at age 22 by George Woldt and Lucas Salmon.
Jacine Gielinski, a star athlete at Littleton High School, was murdered at age 22 by George Woldt and Lucas Salmon.

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Then Jacine was murdered, and Luiszer had been forced to think about capital punishment. To be honest, she wasn't sure that life in prison was a better deal than the death penalty. But the law allowing executions was on the books, and if two men deserved to die, they were Lucas Salmon and George Woldt.

She'd expected the defense attorneys to fight hard. But she wasn't prepared for how they made her feel.

For Jacine's memorial service, her friends had made hundreds of small purple ribbons. Purple was Jacine's favorite color, her high school's color. The family had found a vendor to make metal replicas of the ribbons, about an inch wide, something that would say "Remember Jacine." But on the first day of the trial, the defense attorneys had demanded that the family and the prosecutors be prohibited from wearing those ribbons; Judge Parrish had let the family keep them but had banned the prosecution from wearing the ribbons. That had seemed unnecessarily hurtful.

The defense attorneys had also insisted that the prosecution not refer to Jacine by her first name; it was too personal. Instead, she was to be referred to as "Ms. Gielinski." And while the jury got to look at Salmon every day, they were allowed to see a photograph of Jacine only once, for two minutes during the prosecution's opening statement; the defense had argued that any more would unfairly prejudice the jurors.

Before the trial, defense attorney Cleaver had called Luiszer at home to try to talk her out of supporting the death penalty. They'd talked for nearly 45 minutes, discussing motherhood and other things they had in common. Luiszer had even asked Cleaver how she would feel if the roles were reversed; "probably the same as you," Cleaver had replied. Luiszer understood that the defense attorneys were trying to save a life, understood that they didn't believe in the death penalty.

But then, at Salmon's trial and hearing, Cleaver had fawned all over Salmon, even calling him a "sweet little bunny" in her closings. That had been sickening.

Luiszer also didn't understood the rationale behind the proportionality review. How could the defense compare one murderer to another? So what if Salmon was young? He was over eighteen, the legal age for executions. Besides, Jacine had been young, too. And so what if this was his first offense? It was a horrible one.

If Woldt deserved death, so did Salmon -- although Peggy Luiszer couldn't say that to the judges. But she could speak on behalf of her daughter.

Jacine was a good person, she told the panel, someone who'd always been willing to help others, whether it was teaching a child to kick a soccer ball or gathering clothes to give to homeless shelters. "After 22 years of being a mom, this is all I have left," she said of the box filled with her daughter's remains. "I'll never be a mom again; I'll never be called 'Mom.'"

Jacine's stepfather, Robert Luiszer, who'd helped raise Jacine since she was two years old, asked the judges to reach a fair decision. "He's going to have a right to have comfort from family and friends," he said, indicating Salmon. "Jacine didn't have that right, and she didn't have that chance. She was by herself, alone. I'm not looking for revenge; I'm looking for punishment that fits the crime."

Just before closing arguments, Salmon took the stand to make the traditional apology that defense lawyers usually urge upon their clients as part of their mitigation efforts. Salmon's was a little unusual: He didn't plead for leniency, and he said he wished he'd pleaded guilty from the beginning and not let his attorneys talk him into a trial.

"It seems pretty disingenuous to apologize now for something I could have stopped two years ago," he said quietly. If he could give his life to bring Jacine back, he added, he would, "but we all know that can't be done."

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