Dead Reckoning

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

But it was his job to give the jury a picture of what had happened in Page's life, he said, asking the jurors to think carefully about the meaning of murder after deliberation: "What we have to say is that the person killed another human being after they reflected on it and after they used judgment...A person who knows what they're doing but also sits there and reflects on it and still says, 'Yes, I want to murder.' That's what the law says.

"And none of the experts can tell us that Donta Page deliberated in this case."

Page was not using abuse as an excuse. "He is taking responsibility," Castle told the jury. "We're asking to be convicted of first-degree felony murder, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree burglary and aggravated robbery. You, as the jury, are the conscience of our community...And your verdict is the voice of the community in this case."

Lucas Salmon escaped the death sentence.
Lucas Salmon escaped the death sentence.
George Woldt is now on death row.
George Woldt is now on death row.


Read all the stories in this series at our Penalty Zone website.

At the end of his closing, Castle asked Canney to read a letter that Page had written to Dr. Johnson at the state hospital. "I'm sorry but I'm not very good with words," the letter began. "I never felt comfortable with speaking what I feel.

"Dr. J, I'm just writing to say thank you for not judging me before you got the chance to talk to me. Because no matter what people say, that was not me that day. Donta likes to walk in the park, go fishing, watch birds, that type of stuff. I know it sounds crazy, but that's who I am.

"For whatever reason the court sent me here, I don't care because I know it won't matter in the end. All they see is a black man that killed a white woman. Nobody took the time to ask why but rather who. I've been asking for help for years. Nobody cares until I hurt someone, then they wanted to give me medicine, but when I went home nothing until I got in trouble again.

"My lawyer came to see me Friday. I told him I was going to do this. He said it was not a good idea, but I don't care. Dr. Johnson, I don't know what will happen with me, but I know I'm going to jail. I'm sorry for what I did and I have to pay for it. In jail, nobody is going to care why or help. Dr. Johnson, I don't see what I really have to live for.

"I'm 24 years old. I never had a chance to live. Now it's over."

After Canney sat down, Cooper rose to offer the prosecution's rebuttal. "The defense wants you to examine what happened in Maryland and what happened in D.C. and to somehow use that to excuse what he did in your community, in your city, but that's not the law," he told the jury.

"Do not let the defense distract you from what you took an oath to decide. Do not let the defense distract you from the issues in this case. Don't lose sight that we're here to judge the defendant's conduct on February 24, 1999. Don't lose sight of the selfish, callous motives that were behind what the defendant did in this case. Don't lose sight of the cold-blooded, intentional, purposeful way this defendant behaved both before and after he killed Peyton Tuthill...The evidence of intent and deliberation, ladies and gentlemen, is overwhelming. He placed his own freedom ahead of Peyton Tuthill's life.

"Ladies and gentlemen...I'm asking you to deliberate and reach a verdict that says, 'Mr. Page, we have examined all the evidence. You had a rough childhood, but that's no excuse for what you did...We believe you deliberated, and we believe you are guilty of first-degree murder."

And with those words, the trial ended. Judge Meyer read the jurors their instructions and then sent them off to deliberate.

Pat Tuthill returned to her hotel room to cry. She'd forced herself into the courtroom each day, bringing with her two photographs of Peyton, including the one taken in Wyoming. And she'd brought flowers -- daisies, Peyton's favorite. She wanted to remind everyone that her daughter had once been a beautiful young woman with her whole life in front of her, not a body to be argued over by lawyers.

She thought Judge Meyer had managed his courtroom well and ruled fairly for both sides. But the defense lawyers had driven her to distraction with their arguments about whether Page had deliberated. Of course he deliberated, she thought. He could have left when he heard her come in; she hadn't even seen his face. If all he wanted to do was rob her and get away, why did he have to rape her? And not just rape her, but beat her around that room and then sodomize her? He wanted no witnesses, but did that include mutilation and torture? He wanted to rape her. He wanted to terrorize and kill her. He'd deliberated.

The jury agreed. After two days, on November 21, they returned with their verdict: guilty of all charges, including first-degree murder after deliberation. Peyton's friends and family released a collective sob. Page looked down at the defense table, betraying no emotion.

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