Bob Autobee doesn't want to see the man who murdered his son Eric twelve years ago put to death for his crime. Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler wants to prevent Autobee from sharing his views on the death penalty and the justice system with the jury that will decide whether Eric's killer should be executed. But with the trial currently underway in the bizarre case, a recently filed motion by Autobee's attorneys argues that the DA's effort to silence their client during the sentencing phase is a violation of the state's Victim Rights Act.
"The prosecution's attempt to muzzle the Autobees from expressing their opinion at a sentencing hearing violates Colorado law," the motion reads. Noting that Autobee was allowed to address the court during a previous sentencing of his son's killer, Edward Montour, Jr. -- a proceeding that took place when the senior Autobee was still in favor of the death penalty -- the document insists that "Colorado laws protecting a victim's rights are neither symbolic nor enacted for prosecutorial benefit, but to provide actual protection for victims. And the content of a victim's opinions never should be used as a litmus test for providing this protection."
The situation has its ironies. Colorado's busy victim rights movement and powerful victim lobby has typically been closely aligned with the principles and aims of prosecutors such as Brauchler. In working to guarantee that victims' families have a strong voice in sentencing matters, district attorneys knew they were helping to empower a natural ally in the courtroom. But in the Montour case, it just hasn't worked out that way.
In 2002, while 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. Last year, defense attorneys managed to get his guilty plea thrown out as well, contending that he hadn't been mentally competent to represent himself and received ineffective counsel, setting up the current retrial, which is expected to last four months.
A retired Colorado Department of Corrections employee himself, Bob Autobee initially supported the effort to seek the death penalty for Montour. But his frustration with the many delays in the case eventually led him to "drop out" of the campaign in 2012 and later to publicly forgive Montour and protest Colorado's seldom-used execution process.
In a motion filed earlier this month, Brauchler's office asked District Judge Richard Caschette to prohibit Eric's parents from testifying "to their beliefs about the death penalty and their opinions concerning whether this defendant should be executed for his heinous crimes or not." The Victim's Rights Act allows families to testify regarding the harm they've endured because of a crime, not their views on the appropriate sentence, the prosecutors contend.
But the Autobees' attorneys respond that much of the case law cited by Brauchler's people deals with other states, not Colorado's tough victim rights legislation, which guarantees a crime victim the right to appear at a sentencing hearing and express views regarding "the type of sentence which should be imposed by the court."
"Under Colorado law, prosecutors are required to support -- not oppose -- this right," the attorneys claim.
For more on the controversy, read the latest motion below.
More from our Colorado Crimes archive circa January 6: "Video: Bob Autobee forgives Edward Montour for son's murder as death-penalty trial begins."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.