In the battle over resentencing Edward Montour Jr., an inmate who faces possible execution for the 2002 murder of a corrections officer at the Limon prison, defense attorney David Lane has accused the death-penalty team of prosecutors in the office of Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers of wanting to kill his client.
Given the circumstances -- Montour's original death sentence was thrown out because it wasn't imposed by a jury, and Chambers is again seeking the ultimate penalty through the resentencing process -- this assertion doesn't sound farfetched. But the DA's people have taken strong exception to the word "kill," arguing that the term "is designed solely to inflame" and is "unprofessional."
Think maybe the execution squad is being a little, uh, thin-skinned about their mission? Lane does -- and trying to censor an attorney with such a long history of anti-death-penalty activism is a bit like waving a salami in front of a pit bull.
"Counsel is puzzled as to why the People object," Lane wrote in a recent response to the court, "to the plain and simple fact that they are indeed using their legal educations, their talents... and their life's energies and are trying their very best to kill Edward Montour."
Lane and Chambers have clashed frequently over death-penalty issues, including Chambers' efforts to finance capital prosecutions of state inmates by billing the prison system. The DA has also been blasted over alleged discovery and conflict of interest issues in several cases, including the Montour case. Chambers, for her part, has accused Lane and other defense attorneys of making death-penalty cases so expensive to prosecute that few DAs, other than herself, even bother.
The latest flap in the Montour battle was triggered by a letter Montour wrote to John Topolnicki, the chief deputy DA, on his resentencing. Smelling a possible legal minefield in communicating directly with a defendant in a capital case, Topolnicki hasn't opened the letter, asking the judge to review it first; the defense wants the letter turned over to them.
The prosecutors "have no specific legal right to open that letter," Lane insisted in one court filing, "yet they hope to do in the hopes that Mr. Montour has written something they can use against him in order to kill him."
That line brought howls of protest from Chambers' office, which requested an order from the judge "prohibiting the defense from future use of derogative terms that suggest lack of constitutional, legislative, professional, honorable, ethical, and/or secular moral authority as sworn representatives of the People of the State of Colorado to seek the imposition of death as the appropriate penalty in this case."
In other words, if it's the state doing it, it's not killing. It's the "imposition of death" by lethal injection and fully sanctioned by all that high-faluting moral authority. Got that?
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Lane has responded to such euphemistic whining with relish. He cites the morally neutral dictionary definition of kill: "To deprive of life in any manner; cause the death of; slay," and adds: "Here the People are seeking the death of Edward Montour at their hands. They are thus indeed trying to kill Edward Montour."
Has Chambers' office handed Lane one more club in the death-penalty debate? It's one thing to argue that the state has the right to seek to kill a killer, particularly the killer of a law enforcement officer. But it's a bit lame to pretend that the killing is not a killing, or to argue that the prosecution is merely trying to "preserve the option" of execution so that it may be placed before the true decision-maker, the jury.
The People, in the form of Chambers' team, want to kill the guy. It's nothing personal. Why not admit it?
(Point of disclosure: This newspaper and this writer have been unwittingly dragged into the Montour case in the past. An anonymous letter to Westword from prisoners at Limon regarding Montour was intercepted and copied by prison officials and turned over to the prosecution, but not the defense, leading to more wrangling about whether discovery procedures had been violated. See this previous blog for more info.)