Family Members of Murder Victims Urge Lawmakers to Repeal Death Penalty

Bob Autobee's son was murdered in 2002. But he opposes the death penalty.
Bob Autobee's son was murdered in 2002. But he opposes the death penalty. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
Colorado could become the 21st state to repeal the death penalty. To help make that a reality, family members of murder victims are lobbying legislators to abolish capital punishment.

"The death penalty is the crime...we have the opportunity to do something right in the world for a change," said Bob Autobee at a rally on the State Capitol steps on Thursday, March 28. Autobee's son, Sergeant Eric Jason Autobee, was beaten to death by inmate Edward Montour at the Limon Correctional Facility in 2002.

Following the rally, death-penalty repeal proponents delivered a letter signed by Autobee and 26 other family members of murder victims, detailing why they oppose capital punishment and urging legislators to support the death penalty repeal bill currently working its way through the Capitol.

The bill has already made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but movement has been slow since then.

At the March 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, there was powerful testimony on both sides of the debate. Coloradans who've been directly affected by the actions of convicted murderers spoke, as did six district attorneys.

Four of the DAs testified against repeal, and one of their main arguments was that repealing the death penalty would be an insult to the loved ones of murder victims. "All you will have done is to cheapen the extraordinary evil crimes that take place here," said George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th judicial district, who unsuccessfully sought the death penalty for Aurora shooter James Holmes.

But the family members of murder victims who spoke at the Capitol on March 28 said the exact opposite is true. "The idea that executions help murder victims is an absolute lie," said Gail VanderJagt Rice, the sister of Denver police officer Bruce VanderJagt, who was murdered while responding to a burglary call in 1997.

Others spoke about the toll that a death-penalty sentence takes on the families of victims. "When someone is sentenced to death, the family is sentenced right along with them," said Alice Randolph, a Denver resident whose son, Loren Anthony Collins, was murdered in Aurora in 2010.

Speakers at the rally also mentioned the disproportionate representation of African-American men on death row. Approximately 12 percent of Colorado's population is black, but all three men on death row in this state are African-American.

Coloradans voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1974, after the U.S. Supreme Court had effectively abolished capital punishment two years before. But despite having the death penalty as a punitive option, the state has executed only one person since then.

Governor Jared Polis has indicated that if the death penalty repeal bill is approved and eventually gets to his desk, he would commute the death sentences of the three men currently sitting on death row.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.