Westword Now Exhibit A in Death Penalty Tussle

As we first reported in our February 28 cover story, Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers has found an unusual way to fund half of the six death-penalty prosecutions her office is now pursuing. She’s billed the Colorado Department of Corrections hundreds of thousands of dollars for those efforts, using a 130-year-old statute that allows counties to be reimbursed by the state for the costs of prosecuting crimes—in these cases, two homicides—committed inside state prisons.

Our report generated considerable comment on legal blogs, in the Denver Post, and from Chambers herself (see her memo to staffers here). Not content simply to grouse about the coverage, the DA’s office has also cited the article as, um, “evidence” in a recent motion filed in the efforts to resentence Edward Montour Jr., to death. Montour pleaded guilty to the 2002 murder of a corrections officer at the Limon prison, but (as often happens in capital cases) his original death sentence was thrown out on appeal.

The motion is a response to defense efforts in the Montour case to subpoena records, including internal e-mails, dealing with costs billed to the state in that case. Chief Deputy District Attorney John Topolnicki argues that “going after the prosecution’s funding represents a new tactic in filing frivolous motions to delay, run up expenses and harass.” Topolnicki reprints our entire article because, he contends, it suggests “an ulterior motive” by defense attorney David Lane in raising the billing issue: “to abolish the death penalty through the press and the state legislature.”

As ulterior motives go, that sounds pretty sinister. If the press has the power to abolish the death penalty — by, for instance, reporting what it’s cost Colorado to execute one killer over the past 40 years — that would be pretty big news. –- Alan Prendergast

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Sean Cronin