Shades of Black

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

In her closing, Cleaver stressed that Woldt was the one who'd come up with the idea and that Salmon had been under duress, afraid of losing his friend. In his closing, Zook countered this by reading from Salmon's confession. "We both agreed it was something we would like to do," he read, then asked, "Does this sound like duress?"

On June 24, the three judges again gathered in the El Paso County courtroom to pass judgment. In their written opinion, the panel noted up front that their decision was not a comment on the guilt or innocence of Woldt, who had yet to be tried. There was no getting around mentioning the co-defendant, however, as "Salmon's involvement is inextricably linked to Woldt's alleged involvement."

The panel agreed that the prosecution had proved most of its aggravating factors, including that the murder had been "especially heinous, cruel and depraved," as defined for Gary Davis's death sentence, in that the "acts were done in a conscienceless or pitiless manner which was unnecessarily torturous to the victim."

 
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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Read more Westword coverage of the Colorado Death Penalty in The Penalty Zone

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The judges' decision continued: "While it borders on the absurd to speak of murders in terms of their being senseless, it is noted that the more common reasons people kill each other are not apparent in this case -- for example, greed or revenge. This murder was senseless to the degree that it was for the purpose of carrying out a twisted fantasy causing enormous and unquantifiable pain and damage to others for momentary gratification."

As mitigators, the judges accepted Salmon's age and lack of maturity. And while he had lived in a religious family, attended Bible study and a Christian college and so knew that what he was doing was wrong, they said, under Woldt's "considerable domination," his ability to conform his conduct to the requirement of the law was "significantly impaired." The judges noted that Salmon's life before the murder stood in "stark contrast" to what he did to Jacine Gielinski, and also allowed that he had cooperated with the police -- at least after he was caught. But when it came to the third step in the process, the judges said there was no doubt that the aggravators far outweighed the mitigators.

"The horror of Jacine Gielinski's death is virtually incomprehensible, and it is the judgment of the panel that this aggravating factor alone outweighs the mitigation found to be present in this case," they determined. That meant that Salmon fell "within the legislatively defined category of persons eligible for the death penalty." There was only one more step, the fourth step, during which the judges had to decide whether, all things considered, Salmon deserved to die. But here they could not agree.

Judge Frasher's was the dissenting vote that saved Lucas Salmon's life. At the start of the hearing, Cleaver had tried to have Frasher removed from the panel, arguing that the former public defender had a conflict of interest because he had worked with one of Woldt's lawyers, Doug Wilson. But now he was the man who saved her client.

Frasher noted that the "presumptive sentence" -- unless proved otherwise -- was a life sentence. "I am unaware of any modern historical precedent in the State of Colorado for the execution of an individual with the characteristics of Lucas Salmon," he said. "The imposition of the death penalty on Lucas Salmon in this case would substantially lower the threshold for the imposition of the sentence of death in the state.

"It is human instinct to want to strike out at the perpetrator -- to strike out at Lucas Salmon. To smite him dead as a symbolic act of retribution and vengeance for Jacine Gielinski and her family. Additionally, there is an emotional temptation to feel that the imposition of a sentence less than death demeans the value of Jacine Gielinski's life and the profound tragedy of her death or trivializes the depth of the loss sustained by her family and friends...

"As tempting as it may be," he continued, "I am not permitted, nor should I be permitted, the luxury of seeking vengeance out of the righteous emotionality which understandably surrounds this case. It is my conclusion that I am not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the execution of Lucas Salmon is necessary and appropriate."

The proportionality review had swayed one judge -- and one judge was all the defense needed, as the Danny Martinez case had shown.

Judges Booth and Parrish disagreed with Frasher. Even if the crime was Woldt's idea, "Lucas Salmon willingly signed on and, in time, fully embraced the horror," Judge Booth said. "He never argued against it. Never suggested that they keep this in the realm of fantasy. Salmon's previous lifestyle was respectable, his service to others laudable, but his crimes were horrific.

"That nobody has been sentenced to death in the past twenty years in this state who has Salmon's characteristics is not surprising," Booth said. "Salmon is unique."

Arguing that Salmon didn't deserve the death penalty because he didn't fit the profile of other men on death row ignored all the aggravating factors, Judge Parrish said, "especially the horror of the crime itself in the calculus of the propriety of the death sentence in this case. The loss to the family and friends of Jacine Gielinski is enormous. Whatever action is taken by this panel, the death and manner of death of Ms. Gielinski will never be comprehensible.

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