Dead Reckoning

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

Phil Brimmer handled this argument for the prosecution, recounting once more Peyton's torment, which he contended could have lasted as long as half an hour, maybe more. It had taken time to attack her, time to tie her up and go to her car, time to resume the attack, time to rape her over and over.

As he spoke, both Pat and Steve Tuthill left the courtroom, overcome by emotion.

Canney countered Brimmer's argument with the contention that abuse, neglect and brain damage had left Page mentally unable to obey the law. "How do you weigh all this?" he said. "I don't know. How do you weigh the horror here with the horror there?"

 
Michael Hogue
 
Pat Tuthill carried this picture of her daughter Peyton to the trial and death-penalty hearing of Peyton's murderer, Donta Page.
Pat Tuthill carried this picture of her daughter Peyton to the trial and death-penalty hearing of Peyton's murderer, Donta Page.

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

The judges soon let him know: "The panel unanimously concludes that no amount of horror from the defendant's childhood, even when combined with the other mitigating factors, can outweigh the horror of what the defendant did to Peyton Tuthill and those who loved her."

Unanimously -- as they had to be in order to proceed -- the judges said they were "convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors. Therefore the defendant's crime makes him eligible for the death penalty." There was only one more step to take.

But before hearing closing arguments, the panel listened to the victim's family. The defense attorneys had tried to prevent this, too, arguing that testimony from Peyton's family members might unfairly influence the judges. But the defense lost that motion, and now it was Pat Tuthill's turn to speak.

Dressed in black, she carried a vase filled with daisies, the photographs of Peyton, and a small urn. It seemed to take forever to reach the witness stand. And once she got there, she didn't sit down. Instead, Pat stood for more than two hours, fighting her way through tears to tell the judges about her daughter -- about Peyton's giving nature, her love and her dreams -- and how she now had to live with guilt and overwhelming grief. She had promised to keep her daughter safe. "I dream of Peyton dying, and I'm not able to save her," she said.

When at last she stepped down from the witness stand, Pat looked Donta Page in the eyes for the first time. Those are the eyes Peyton had to look into when she was begging for her life, she thought. The last eyes she saw as she lay dying. Pat looked hard and saw...nothing.

When it came time for Page to make the killer's traditional apology, Canney read it for him. The defense attorney truly believed that Peyton's murder wasn't the sort of calculated crime committed by others on death row. And so he read from the heart:

"To the Tuthill family, I am sorry. I'm sorry for your unmeasurable loss...As I see Ms. Tuthill's mother and how hurt she is, no words come. There are no words in this world that can express the amount of pain that has been brought to your lives, no words that can ever undo the past...I hope in time I can be forgiven by everyone. But I don't think I can ever forgive myself."

The apology was not accepted.


On March 2, the judges returned with their decision. They called Donta Page's crime "vile" and "repugnant" -- but they also spared his life.

All three had voted against the death penalty, although for different reasons. Judges Meyer and Anderson bought into the defense's proportionality review, or, as they wrote in their opinion, the "particularized circumstances of this case against the background of historical antecedents reflecting evolving standards of decency in the Colorado community."

They noted that historically, the death penalty had been "imposed with infrequency and reserved for the most extreme cases." In order to define "more precisely the context of community values in which this case has arisen, the sentencing panel has considered certain evidence as to the nature of this crime and this defendant in comparison to other crimes resulting in imposition of the death penalty in Colorado." And as a result of this review, they had determined that "imposing the death penalty on Donta Page would lower the bar for executions in the State of Colorado.

"This murder was preceded by no premeditation," they stated. Page had not pre-selected Peyton or waited for his victim. He "engaged in no preparation for or planning of the murder. Though he armed himself with a knife when he first entered the house, it was not at that time with the specific intent to commit a murder." And when he was "surprised" by Peyton's appearance, he "reacted instinctively," they wrote.

Page's actions, they said, "differed significantly from Frank Rodriguez's kidnapping of Lorraine Martelli; Robert Harlan's pursuit and abduction of Rhonda Maloney; Nathan Dunlap's revenge plan against his former co-employees at Chuck E Cheese's restaurant; Gary Davis' predatory pursuit and kidnapping of Virginia May; Francisco Martinez's torture and murder of Brandaline Duvall; George Woldt's stalking and kidnapping of Jacine Gielinski; and William Neal's calculating, ruthless planning and execution of Rebecca Holberton, Candace Walters and Angela Fite...None of these cases is characterized by the impetuous, precipitate and opportunistic manner in which Page attacked Tuthill."

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