Shrine On

You must remember this.

In October 1997, Davis was finally put to death -- the first man executed in Colorado, by Colorado, in thirty years. He was also the last.

Because before Davis got the needle, the Colorado Legislature decided to inject itself in the state's death-penalty process. Too few juries were willing to do what Davis's had done, prosecutors argued, and they urged lawmakers to take the death-penalty decision away from jurors. In 1995, with Romer's approval, the legislature did just that, handing the responsibility instead to a three-judge panel, one of whose members was to be the judge who'd presided over a defendant's trial.

But the new system didn't overcrowd death row, either. It sent Cody Neal, who used an ax to murder three women in Jefferson County in 1998, to join Robert Harlan, Nathan Dunlap and Frank Rodriguez (who has since died). And George Woldt, who in 1997 kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered 22-year-old Jacine Gielinksi, a college student. (Lucas Salmon, his accomplice, was sentenced to life.) And Francisco "Pancho" Martinez Jr. who, along with eight other members of the Bloods gang, kidnapped, then raped and murdered fourteen-year-old Brandy Duvall in May 1997. While the other gang members received sentences of up to life in prison, Martinez -- who'd stabbed Brandy 28 times -- was sentenced to die.

On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered that the death sentences for Woldt and Martinez be changed to life in prison without parole, ruling that at the time they committed their crimes, Colorado's death-penalty statute -- the one that gave life-and-death decisions to judges, not juries -- was unconstitutional. (Neal's death sentence, which is currently on appeal, is likely to be changed, too.)

"Colorado has a death-penalty law, and the horrible crimes committed by these individuals certainly qualify them for the death penalty," said Attorney General Ken Salazar in response to the Colorado Supreme Court's decision. "I am consulting with the district attorneys and the victims' families concerning further legal action, including possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court."

But it was the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in 2002's Ring v. Arizona that ruled out three-judge panels making death-penalty decisions in capital cases, essentially restoring the job to juries. Recognizing the error of their interfering ways, in a special session last year, lawmakers returned Colorado's death-penalty statute to the system that had been in place before they started messing with it. The damage had already been done, however.

"Much of this was motivated by prosecutors and the district attorneys' council," says David Kaplan, an attorney who worked on Martinez's defense and heads the Colorado Public Defender's Office. "In their constant attempt to find more ways to get more death verdicts, they wound up changing the laws in ways they weren't sure would hold up to constitutional scrutiny." And they also didn't succeed in securing more death sentences.

"I've got a lot of years to go in this hole," Davis wrote in 1994, when he had three years to go. "Some days I wish I could lay down and die. I think that's what the prison wants us to do. They loved it in 1990 when I tried to get executed. You should have seen how nice they treated me back then. To hell with them."

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