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Dead Reckoning

Donta Page's sentence revives Colorado's death-penalty debate -- but brings no closure. The Conclusion of "Penalty Zone."

Even though the young woman was dead, Page did not leave the house immediately. He went downstairs and did his laundry, trying to clean the girl's blood off of his sweater. Giving up, he placed the sweater, the bloody knife, a piece of the splintered backdoor frame and two cameras in a plastic bag and threw them in a trash bin outside the home. Then he returned to Stout Street, getting there in time for his 1:30 p.m. ride to the bus station and his return trip to Maryland.

Peyton's body wasn't discovered until about 8:30 that night, when one of her roommates arrived home. Coming in from the alley, he noticed that the back door had been shattered. He called the police and waited for a patrol officer to arrive. Armed with a flashlight, together they crept through the dark duplex. First they saw the blood, and then the beam fell on the body of Peyton Tuthill.


Pat Tuthill was at her job in the marketing office of a medical center when the executive director called and said he needed to meet with her. When she arrived at his office and saw two of her closest friends from work there, her heart jumped into her throat. She knew something had happened to one of her daughters.

"Which one?" she asked quietly.

"Peyton," one friend replied.

Pat asked if there'd had been an accident. Did she need to get on an airplane? Go to a hospital?

The friend shook her head. "No. She was killed."

"What do you mean 'killed'?" Pat asked, not comprehending. "Killed in an accident?"

Again, her friend shook her head. "No, someone killed her."

Pat stood there. Not believing. Not understanding. She sat down, emotionless, and suddenly thought of Cara and Peyton's father, Steve. Someone was going to have to tell them. She didn't know the police were already talking to Steve and Cara; a few minutes later, the police arrived to talk to her.

That's when reality hit. Peyton, her beautiful, kind, sweet Peyton, had been murdered. She began to cry, and cried as though she would never stop. With the tears, a fog descended. Pat would remember her physician handing her a bag of pills and hugging her. "Remember, we love you," he said. "But you're going to need to take these for a while." She recalled someone giving her several of the pills to swallow.

The pills may have helped calm her, but they didn't stop the tears. Or the guilt that rose in her like a fever. She'd promised...promised...to keep Peyton safe. Intellectually, she knew it was a promise no parent could guarantee would be kept. But still, she had promised, and now her child was dead. She thought of all the things she should have done. She should have backed her ex-husband when he insisted that Peyton not go so far from home. She should have gone to Denver, checked the neighborhood, made sure the house was secure.

In the days and weeks that followed, people kept trying to tell Pat what had happened to her daughter -- they didn't want her to learn the details from someone in the press. But she tuned them out. She didn't want to know about Donta Page, the man they'd arrested in Maryland and charged with her daughter's murder. She didn't want to know what he'd done to her.

It had been difficult enough talking to Denver's district attorney, Bill Ritter. He was as comforting as he could be under the circumstances. He'd even asked what she thought about pursuing the death penalty.

Pat wasn't sure what to tell him; she'd never given the death penalty much thought. She supposed that if she knew that murderers would go to prison and stay there for the rest of their lives, that would be the best way to deal with them.

She asked Ritter if he could guarantee that Donta Page would stay in prison for the rest of his life, would never be able to hurt anyone again. Ritter told her that he couldn't make such a guarantee. Then, she said, she would support whatever decision he reached.

Over the next few weeks, Pat Tuthill thought a lot about the death penalty. She stayed up nights researching sentencing and crime statistics and talked to law-enforcement authorities during the day. She learned that there were more than 800,000 murderers walking the streets and that the average stay in prison for taking a life was less than ten years.

She knew those statistics included lesser charges such as manslaughter, not just first-degree murder. She also knew that if Page was convicted, he would, at the very least, be sentenced to life without parole. Still, there were prison escapes and governor's pardons. And what if he killed a prison guard or another inmate? What about that victim and his family?

When Ritter called to say that he thought his office should pursue the death penalty, she said she agreed with his decision. She didn't think of it as retribution. Revenge would change nothing; it wouldn't give her peace or bring Peyton back. But it was just, and it would rid the world of an evil man.

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