Read parents' letter asking DA to stop trying to kill their son's killer

It was eleven years ago today -- October 18, 2002 -- that inmate Edward Montour Jr. attacked Eric Autobee, a 23-year-old correctional officer, in the kitchen of the Limon prison, fatally bludgeoning him with a heavy ladle. To mark that grim anniversary, the victim's parents have made a startling plea to the prosecution to resolve the still-open case -- a plea that insists the best way to serve justice and honor their son's memory would be by dropping the state's relentless but much-misfired attempts to obtain the death penalty against Montour.

"It is our understanding that Mr. Montour will likely accept a plea to be imprisoned for the rest of his life in a maximum security unit without the possibility of a parole," Bob and Lola Autobee state in their letter to Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. "In the meantime, our family sits without any resolution or finality, suffering so that our son's image and identity can continue to be used by you, not because you love our son like we do, but because you have greater political ambitions to obtain a death penalty verdict."

Montour, who has a long history of mental health issues, was already serving a life sentence for killing his eleven-week-old daughter when he attacked Autobee without warning; it was the first inmate killing of an officer in the Colorado Department of Corrections 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. Prosecutors have been seeking to get the death penalty reinstated in his case ever since.

As reported here last year, the drawn-out legal wrangle alienated Autobee's parents; Bob Autobee, a retired correctional officer himself, denounced the interminable costs and delays involved and came out publicly against the death penalty as it is applied in Colorado, saying it wouldn't fix the violence problems in the prison system. Earlier this year, after prosecutors refused to accept a deal in which Montour would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, he was allowed to withdraw his prior guilty plea. A firm trial date in the decade-old homicide has yet to be set, and the Autobees fear that a capital verdict "will unnecessarily tie up the courts in appeals for another 10, 15, 20 years at everyone's emotional and financial expense."

The Autobees now say they have forgiven Montour for his crime, saying their son would have wanted it that way: "It has taken time to get to this place of forgiveness, and we are thankful for it. If he had been executed, we would never have been able to live with ourselves."

The couple say their position is not simply an expression of moral conviction that the death penalty is wrong but disgust with the way the state has responded to their son's death, the 2012 slaying of DOC employee Mary Ricard by an inmate at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, and the murder of DOC director Tom Clements earlier this year by a recently paroled inmate, Evan Ebel: "The solution is to commit resources and energy spent in pursuing the death penalty to assisting the government in managing the mental health needs of the inmates, and at the same time, managing the safety of the prisons."

Brauchler's office did not respond to a request for comment on the Autobees' letter. Here's the full text.

Autobee Open Letter to George Brauchler

More from our Colorado Crimes archive circa April: "Edward Montour guilty plea ruling: David Lane on death penalty, James Holmes, 'bloody 18th.'"

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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