Sunday, March 07, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Colorado, Death Row

The state of Colorado currently has three people on death row, and of the three, two are black and one is Latino. Colorado has executed one person since 1976.

To date, no prisoner on Death Row has been found innocent in Colorado, however, the following five people were under sentence of death in Colorado, and have had their sentences overturned. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the death sentences for three men, George Woldt, William "Cody" Neal and Francisco Martinez - imposed by three-judge panels were unconstitutional, citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that juries, not judges, must determine if the death penalty is appropriate. The Colorado Supreme Court ordered these three men be re-sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In addition, the following also had their death sentences overturned.

Robert Harlan - In Harlan's case, jurors were improperly exposed to the Bible and passages describing God’s view on punishment as they deliberated. ... "If any case merits the death penalty, there cannot be serious debate about this case being that case," Judge John J. Vigil wrote. "The death penalty, however, must be imposed in a constitutional manner." "Jury resort to biblical code has no place in a constitutional death penalty proceeding."

Edward Montour Jr. represented himself and plead guilty in 2003 for the murder of a correctional officer. He continued to represent himself in the penalty phase, presented no mitigation, and was sentenced to death by Judge King of the Douglas County District Court.

Continuing pro se, Mr. Montour then waived any post-conviction challenges and now seeks to waive any appeal other than the mandatory review by the Colorado Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has remanded the case to the District Court for determination of Mr. Montour's competency to waive his appeal, and counsel has now been appointed over Mr. Montour's objection to litigate the issue of competency.

This case highlights the problem of so called "volunteers," or defendants who refuse both legal representation and fail to present any defense or mitigation. Although individuals have the right to represent themselves, if we have a death penalty, our system must find a way to see that mitigating information is brought before the court lest we simply have suicide via the State in such cases.

A Colorado Supreme Court decision in April 2007, however, reversed the death . sentence.

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