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.
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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