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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."

In his closing argument, prosecutor Phil Brimmer began by reminding the jury that when Peyton returned from her successful interview with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, "her thoughts were filled with hope for the future.

"Little did she know that as she entered her home, her future would last only as long as it took this man to terrorize and kill her," he said, pointing to Page.

This was Brimmer's first death-penalty case since joining the DA's office in 1994 after years in private civil practice. He'd found the experience to be incredibly sad, much more so even than other murder cases. Only in a death-penalty case was there such an emphasis on getting to know someone as well as he would know a friend or family member. It was up to the prosecutors to portray the meaning of Peyton's life and her family's loss. Brimmer knew Peyton's likes and dislikes, her sense of humor, her dreams and goals. He'd heard the stories of her childhood, heard stories about her as a young woman. He'd grown to like her. But what struck him most about what had happened to Peyton was that it was every woman's worst fear come true: to be trapped and attacked in the place she was supposed to feel most safe, in her home, with no way out.

Gary Davis, executed in 1997, was the first man killed by the state in thirty years.
Gary Davis, executed in 1997, was the first man killed by the state in thirty years.
Gary Davis, executed in 1997, was the first man killed by the state in thirty years.
Gary Davis, executed in 1997, was the first man killed by the state in thirty years.

"Mr. Page did not have an ideal childhood," Brimmer said. "He did not have a father figure. He did not have a mother who gave him the attention that a mother should. He may have been sexually abused once. He may have been physically abused as a child. And if that's true, none of those things are the defendant's fault.

"But by the same token, none of those things excuses what he did to Peyton Tuthill. Does the fact that someone is abused as a child give that person the right to kill someone? Does the fact that someone may have been physically abused as a child give that person the right to sodomize a helpless woman?

"There are few people in life who are dealt a perfect hand. But despite not getting a perfect hand, people make do. They work hard. They try to improve themselves...They follow the rules of society and they follow the laws that people have passed to govern conduct...

"Ask yourself the following question: Why is his entire life story relevant to your deliberations?"

Jim Castle closed for the defense. He'd turned down the first request that he represent Page from the Alternate Defense Counsel, a group that finds attorneys for defendants who have a conflict with the public defender's office; he and his wife, also a defense lawyer, had a four-month-old baby as well as two other children, and he didn't want his family to suffer through the enormous sacrifice a death-penalty trial entailed. As a veteran of five other death-penalty cases, he knew that such a case would insinuate itself into every part of his life. He wouldn't be there for his children's events. Saturday wouldn't be a family day, but a day of work. His wife would have to do double duty at home as well as manage her own career. And the stress of having a man's life in his hands would be with him through every waking hour and would still hover as he slept.

But the Alternate Defense Counsel had called again: There was no one else. Castle had talked it over with his wife, and they'd agreed he had to take the job. He needed help, and he'd begged other attorneys to assist him for months before Canney finally agreed to join the team.

Now Castle had to convince twelve jurors to make the decision that would justify his sacrifice. "It will be a long time, if ever, before any of us will forget the image of Peyton Tuthill in that bedroom, or the image of a six-year-old boy wiping the blood off his body from wounds that his mother inflicted," he began.

"It will be a long time, perhaps never, before any of us can forget the sounds of Peyton Tuthill's screaming in the last few minutes of her life, or the bleeding of a little boy asking his mother to please leave him alone because he'll never do it again.

"It will be a long time, perhaps never, before any of us will be able to forget the indignity of the rape of Peyton Tuthill, or the indignity of a ten-year-old boy being raped in the only place he ever felt safe.

"These are the lasting images of this trial. We can't look at one without thinking about the other."

Peyton was a woman who had "everything before her," he said. "She didn't deserve this in any fashion, nor does her family. The horror is everyone's nightmare. As a parent, I can't imagine what her family is going through. And I don't want any of my comments here to in any way suggest that what happened to her is at all excused by anything that we've presented or anything that I say, because there's no excuse for what happened to her in that house."

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