Law Enforcement

Prosecutors Drop Death Penalty Possibility in Adams County Case

A booking photo of Dreion Dearing.
A booking photo of Dreion Dearing. Adams County Sheriff's Office
A week after Governor Jared Polis signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Colorado, prosecutors have decided to stop pursuing the death penalty in one of the last possible capital punishment cases in the state.

On March 30, Dave Young, district attorney for Adams and Broomfield counties, filed a motion in Adams County District Court to remove the possibility of the death penalty for Dreion Dearing, the man charged with murdering Adams County Sheriff's Deputy Heath Gumm in January 2018.

"The People cannot overcome Governor Polis’s stated intent to forego any death sentence with a stroke of his pen," Young's motion states in reference to Polis commuting the death sentences of the three men on Colorado's death row.. "Regardless of the evidence supporting a reasonable likelihood of obtaining a death sentence from a jury of twelve in this case, Governor Polis has dictated the final sentence. It is impossible for the People to convince a thirteenth juror who does not assess the evidence and has a predisposed opinion as to what the outcome should be."

The district attorney's office declined to comment, citing the fact that the Dearing case is ongoing. Dearing's lead attorney did not return a request for comment, either.

Dearing allegedly murdered Gumm when he and other deputies responded to a possible assault-in-progress case in Thornton. Contacted by deputies, Dearing ran, with deputies following close behind. When they caught up with him, Dearing allegedly shot and killed Gumm.

"The People have consulted with Deputy Heath Gumm’s family at length throughout this case, but most particularly about the filing of this Motion. While the family understands the basis for the filing of this Motion, they are extremely frustrated that the People cannot continue to seek the appropriate maximum sentence available under the law applicable to this case," Young's office wrote in the filing.

With that development in Adams County, there's now just one capital punishment trial remaining in Colorado, the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty.

El Paso County prosecutors recently told the Colorado Springs Gazette that they plan to move forward with a possible death penalty sentence for Marco Garcia-Bravo, accused of being involved in the first-degree murders of two teenagers.

Helen Griffiths, who led the ACLU of Colorado's campaign to end the death penalty, questions why prosecutors would move forward with a death-penalty trial in the El Paso County case when they know in all likelihood that it won't lead to a person being executed.

"What kind of a jury is going to award the death penalty when it's no longer legal in the state and the death row is empty?" Griffiths asks.

The abolition of the death penalty automatically kicks in for crimes charged after July 1 of this year.

While Griffiths has been a relatively recent advocate of the team pushing for Colorado's death-penalty abolition, lawyers, clergy and criminal-justice reform advocates have been pushing for it for decades. This year's bill was the legislature's sixth repeal attempt since 2007...and it succeeded.
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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.