Longform

Shades of Black

Page 3 of 16

One of the mistakes involved the license plate. A short time later, the police showed up and took the two men into custody. Separated from his friend, Salmon at first denied knowing anything about a kidnapping. When the police asked to search his car, however, he gave his permission, knowing they would find the bra and knife. Confronted by the evidence, he confessed -- matter-of-factly, without emotion -- and told the police where they could find Jacine Gielinski's body. Later, after being appointed lawyers from the Colorado Public Defender's Office, Salmon waived his bond hearing, saying it was not "appropriate" that he be released.

Woldt also confessed, and the men were charged with first-degree murder. Soon after, El Paso District Attorney Jeanne Smith announced that her prosecutors, Dan Zook and David Young, would be seeking the death penalty. On March 4, 1999, Lucas Salmon was found guilty of first-degree murder after deliberation, felony murder, sexual assault and kidnapping, as well as attempted kidnapping for the incident with Gonzales.

El Paso District Judge David Parrish presided over Salmon's trial and was subsequently joined on the death-penalty panel by El Paso District Judge Michael Heydt and Pueblo District Judge James Frasher. But in April, just as the Robert Riggan death-penalty hearing -- the first to give the sentencing decision to a panel of judges instead of a jury -- was getting under way, Heydt resigned from the bench rather than serve on the panel. He was eventually replaced by El Paso District Judge Peter Booth.

"I do not believe that a fair and just decision can be made by a panel of judges from a paper record," Heydt said in resigning. "I do not wish to participate in a death-penalty process unless I believe that it is one that I can live with, not only as a judge, but also as a human being."

But both Booth and Frasher accepted the challenge of reading the 3,000-page transcript of the trial, representing ten days of testimony from witnesses. As the hearing began that June, Young gave the prosecution's opening statement accompanied by six minutes of video projected onto a large screen that showed a battered, nude Jacine Gielinski lying on her stomach, face down in a pool of blood. Young said the prosecution intended to prove seven aggravators -- those legally defined circumstances of the crime that demonstrated why Salmon deserved the death penalty rather than life in prison -- necessary for the first step of the death-penalty process.

Robert Pepin, president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, opened for the defense, saying his side would be calling witnesses to testify that Salmon was a nonviolent, caring individual until he fell under the sway of the much more evil George Woldt. Some of those witnesses would be psychologists who would attest that Salmon had a "dependent personality disorder" that made him so desperate to keep Woldt's friendship that he participated in the rape and murder. The testimony, as well as Salmon's age at the time of the murder, 21, and his general immaturity, would be offered as mitigators, he said. And then Pepin made a curious comment. Bad as the crime was, he said, Lucas Salmon did not "fit the profile" of the killers on death row; the defense would be calling a witness to demonstrate that, too.

After Pepin finished, prosecutor Zook called the El Paso County coroner to the stand to testify regarding Jacine's wounds. And then Zook surprised everyone by announcing that he was resting his case. The judges had what they needed; there was little more the prosecution could add.

As promised, the defense called its experts to testify about Salmon's psychological makeup. At Salmon's trial, defense attorney Lauren Cleaver had told the jury that her client's dependent-personality disorder made it impossible for him to "deliberate" the murder of Jacine; the jury had rejected that contention. But the defense still hoped that the judges would accept it as mitigator.

The defense also called friends of Salmon's, who described a different man from the one who had raped and killed Jacine. One of his former girlfriends noted that Salmon had respected the sexual boundaries she'd established and had kept his hands to himself far better than any boyfriend she'd had since.

Salmon's parents also took the stand. They loved their son, they told the panel, but did not ask that his life be spared. Whatever decision the judges reached, Robert Salmon said, he hoped it would bring some closure for Jacine's family and friends. "I guess I don't envy your decision," he told the judges. "I love my son. But I have to tell you that Jacine's family is my primary concern. I have to tell you that whatever's best for them is my desire."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Steve Jackson