Death to Sir Mario

For the hard-charging capital crimes squad in the office of 18th Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers, the third time is the charm. After two unsuccessful death-penalty prosecutions, a jury returned a verdict of death on June 16 in the case of Sir Mario Owens (left) for the 2005 murders of Vivian Wolfe and Javad Marshall-Fields.

That makes the team 1-2 in death-penalty cases, with at least three more to go. A complete list of the half-dozen defendants Chambers has sought to send to the lethal-injection gurney, in what has become a singular crusade to revive Colorado's all-but-moribund approach to the ultimate punishment, can be found here.

Chambers's previous efforts to obtain the death penalty for two state inmates over a prison homicide drew fire over the cost — she was billing the state for entire salaries of employees in her office working on the prosecutions — and ultimately fizzled. A jury convicted David Bueno of first-degree murder but refused to sentence him to death; a judge removed Chambers' office from the case of his codefendant, Alejandro Perez, after a finding of prosecutorial misconduct. The DA is appealing that ruling.

But if you want an ideal candidate for the death penalty, you could probably do worse than Sir Mario Owens. Marshall-Fields was slated to testify against Owens and associate Robert Ray in a previous homicide; prosecutors had no trouble making the case that the ruthless execution of a witness and his fiancée is an execution-worthy crime. Ray, who's also facing death, is scheduled to go to trial this summer.

Still, there's a reason Colorado had only one man on death row before Sir Mario's verdict. There's a reason the state has performed only one execution in the past forty years. Getting a jury to go for death is tough enough; getting that decision through the long, costly appeals process is even tougher.

Life is short. The criminal justice process is not. —Alan Prendergast