Bob Autobee "drops out" of death penalty battle for son's killer, Edward Montour

Frustrated by a decade of legal delays and setbacks, the father of slain state corrections officer Eric Autobee says that he now opposes further efforts to obtain the death penalty for inmate Edward Montour Jr. for the 2002 murder. In a recent interview, Bob Autobee also blasted the leadership of the Colorado Department of Corrections, saying that a fatal attack on another prison employee in September shows that officials have failed to adopt adequate security measures to protect staff from dangerous inmates.

"We've dropped out of the legal process because I can't see putting Montour to death for his part in this murder and not punishing the state for its part," Autobee says. "They've learned nothing from my son's death. We're losing control of the prisons."

Already serving a life sentence for killing his infant daughter, Montour attacked 23-year-old Eric Autobee at the Limon Correctional Facility with a heavy ladle he'd obtained from the prison kitchen. It was the first inmate killing of an officer in the DOC in 73 years. Montour 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. Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers and the Colorado Attorney General's Office have been seeking to get the death penalty reinstated in his case for the past five years.

Chambers's successor, George Brauchler, faces a critical decision about whether to continue to pursue the costly execution battle at a hearing scheduled for February. Montour lawyer David Lane says his client will withdraw his guilty plea if the state keeps pushing for the death penalty, but he's agreed to "stay in a little supermax cell for the rest of his life" and not contest his conviction if the prosecution will forego its quest for execution.

Although Colorado currently has three inmates on death row, it's only managed to execute one prisoner -- Gary Davis -- in the past forty years. Autobee says he supports Lane's proposal, calling the death penalty in Colorado "a joke" and pointing out that Chuck E. Cheese killer Nathan Dunlap has been sitting on death row for nearly twenty years now.

"Montour will probably die a natural death," Autobee says. "We're fine with that. I'm pro-death penalty, but in the situation our state is in, is it really a fair option? Ten years of my life has gone by, and we're still fighting the same battle."

Continue to read more of our interview with Bob Autobee. A retired DOC employee himself, Autobee says the prison system is more dangerous now than when his son was killed. A lifer with mental issues like Montour "had no business" being allowed access to kitchen implements at Limon, he contends, but the DOC has continued to move high-risk inmates into medium or close security prisons. "The violence is outrageous right now," he says. "They run these medium security prisons, which weren't built for this kind of inmate, and they run them understaffed. And then they wonder why they have these problems."

Studies have indicated that Colorado uses administrative segregation (solitary confinement) more than many other state prison systems. The state built a second supermax but hasn't been able to staff it because of budget problems. "I would rather have them fill the new max with violent offenders and close a medium security prison," Autobee says.

Following the Autobee murder, the DOC implemented new measures to keep possible weapons in the kitchen tethered. But a kitchen knife removed from its tether was reportedly used in the attack on two female staffers at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in September that left one badly injured and killed Sergeant Mary Ricard. The suspect in that homicide, Miguel Alonso Contreras-Perez, is serving a sentence of 35 years to life for a sexual assault and has a history of sexually harassing staff; he's since been moved to the state supermax in Cañon City,

"They tethered down the weapons, but they're still putting lifers in the kitchen where the weapons are," Bob Autobee notes. "How many lives is it going to take before they figure it out? It's a dangerous job, but when the state isn't doing its job, it's ten times as dangerous."

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Death-penalty prosecutors want to kill David Lane's rhetoric in regard to trying to kill Edward Montour."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast