Alan Prendergast has been reporting about Edward Montour, a prison murderer the 18th Judicial District DA's office now headed by George Brauchler has targeted with the death penalty -- a controversial effort further complicated by a changed finding in the case that landed Montour behind bars in the first place.
Now, a breakthrough. Last night, Brauchler offered to drop the death-penalty prosecution if Montour would accept life without the possibility of parole -- and he has. Details about a fast-developing story below.
Here's a quick summation of the long back story, from a February 26 Prendergast post:
There's little doubt surrounding the crime for which Montour is now facing trial: his fatal attack on corrections officer Eric Autobee twelve years ago. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, but the Colorado Supreme Court threw out his death sentence in 2007 because it hadn't been imposed by a jury. The prosecution has since been mired in procedural delays, internal conflicts, and a highly public battle with Autobee's father, Bob, who opposes the death penalty and wants to address the jury in the case about why he doesn't think his son's killer should be executed.
Prosecutors hoped to use the fact that Montour was already serving life for a prior homicide as an aggravating factor in his current trial. But earlier this month, Montour's defense team filed a motion that he was wrongfully convicted of beating his daughter Taylor to death and shouldn't have been in prison in the first place.
The motion was followed by a decision from the El Paso County Coroner's Office to change the official finding in the 1997 death of Montour's twelve-week-old daughter from homicide to undetermined. The reason: The child may have suffered from a rickets-like ailment that made her injuries seem like abuse when she may simply have been accidentally dropped, as Montour has long claimed.
At a hearing last Friday, Brauchler and David Lane, Montour's attorney, clashed about the DA's continuing insistence on pursuing the death penalty. But last night, Lane says Brauchler had a very different tone during a phone conversation.
"He called, and we talked for a few minutes," Lane notes, "and then he made the offer" to drop the death-penalty prosecution if Montour would accept a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
At that point, Lane continues, "I told him we'd have to go over to the jail and talk to Edward -- and late last night, the defense team met with Edward at Douglas County Jail and talked about it. And Edward, in what was an unbelievably moving moment, said, 'I owe this to the Autobee family. If it were up to me, I'd fight -- but I owe it to the Autobees. So I'll take the deal."
As such, Montour will be back in court at 8:45 a.m. today, a few minutes after this post's publication. "We'll tell the judge what's happening," Lane says. "Then, we expect the judge will put the jury on ice until Bob Autobee can be there. And hopefully around noon, the whole deal will go down."
Continue for more about the latest development in the Edward Montour prosecution. In the meantime, Lane's head is still spinning for the twists and turns of the case. According to him, "the human tragedy that flowed from Edward Montour accidentally dropping his baby in 1997 has had ripple effects that are beyond anyone's wildest imagination."
That includes the terrible death of Eric Autobee, who Montour killed in a prison kitchen using a heavy ladle. Nonetheless, Eric's loved ones have become some of the most vocal opponents to executing Montour. "From my perspective, the Autobee family's compassion, mercy and understanding transcended the prosecutor's desire for vengeance and death," Lane says.
The attorney is less forgiving when it comes to what he sees as a long and wasteful journey through the legal system.
"Years ago, Edward Montour offered to plead to exactly what he's going to be taking today," Lane points out. "And I would love to see a Colorado Open Records Act request to the DA's office, the Department of Corrections and alternate defense counsel to show the taxpayers of Colorado what a failed attempt to attain the death penalty actually costs. And that cost has been enormous."
His estimate? "Well over a million dollars," he says. "And that's just a wild guess. It could be more. I'm being very conservative."
Of course, the money is only a small part of this story.
"There has been so much tragedy here," Lane notes. "But there has also been so much humanity from the restorative justice process, which has so moved Edward Montour that he's pleading guilty to help the Autobees gain some peace. And there's been so much humanity from the Autobees in understanding they don't want to make Edward Montour's mother go through the pain they went through with the loss of their son.
"In my 34 years of being a lawyer, this is the most epic case I've ever handled in terms of the sheer humanity that's been involved."
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Colorado Crimes archive circa February 26: "Edward Montour death penalty trial: Homicide ruling changed in infant death."