Capital punishment in Colorado

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Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Colorado.

It was reinstated in 1974 by popular vote, with 61% in favor of the measure that was referred to the voters by the state legislature.[1]


When the prosecution seeks the death penalty, the sentence is decided by the jury and must be unanimous. In case of a hung jury during the penalty phase of the trial, a life sentence is issued, even if a single juror opposed death (there is no retrial).[2]

From 1995 to 2003, death sentences in Colorado were decided on by a three-judge panel. Three individuals (George Woldt, Francisco Martinez Jr., and William Neal) were sentenced to death under this system until it was overturned following Ring v. Arizona, retroactively commuting the death sentences to life without parole.[3]

Capital crimes

First-degree murder is punishable by death in Colorado if:[2]

  1. It was committed by a person under sentence of imprisonment for a class 1, 2, or 3 felony
  2. The defendant was previously convicted of a class 1 or 2 felony involving violence
  3. The defendant knowingly killed a law officer, elected officer, judicial officer or firefighter, while the person was engaged in the course of the performance of the person's duties or because of them
  4. The defendant killed a person kidnapped or held as a hostage by him or by anyone associated with him
  5. The defendant has been a party to an agreement to kill another person in furtherance of which a person has been intentionally killed
  6. It was committed while lying in wait, from ambush, or by use of an explosive or incendiary device or a chemical, biological, or radiological weapon.
  7. The defendant committed a class 1, 2, or 3 felony and, in the course of or in furtherance of such or immediate flight therefrom, the defendant intentionally caused the death of a person other than one of the participants
  8. It was committed for pecuniary gain
  9. The defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the victim of the offense
  10. It was committed in a especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner
  11. The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution or effecting an escape from custody, including killing of a witness to a criminal offense.
  12. The defendant unlawfully and intentionally, knowingly, or with universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally, killed two or more persons during the commission of the same criminal episode
  13. The victim is a child under 12 years of age
  14. The murder was committed because of the victim's race, color, ancestry, religion, or national origin
  15. The defendant's possession of the weapon used to commit the class 1 felony constituted a felony offense under Colorado or federal law
  16. The defendant intentionally killed more than one person in more than one criminal episode
  17. The defendant knowingly killed a pregnant woman

Colorado statute books still provide the death penalty for first-degree kidnapping[4] and aggravated assault by an escaping capital felon[5] but the death penalty for these crimes is no longer constitutional since the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case Kennedy v. Louisiana.


The Governor of Colorado has the sole right to pardon or commute the death sentence. As of 2011 no gubernatorial commutation of a living prisoner has been granted in Colorado.[6]

On January 7, 2011, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter granted a full and unconditional posthumous pardon to Joe Arridy, who had been convicted and executed as an accomplice to a murder that occurred in 1936. The pardon came 72 years after Arridy's execution and was the first such pardon in Colorado history. A press release from the governor's office stated, "[A]n overwhelming body of evidence indicates the 23-year-old Arridy was innocent, including false and coerced confessions, the likelihood that Arridy was not in Pueblo at the time of the killing, and an admission of guilt by someone else."

The governor pointed to Arridy's IQ of 46. The governor said, "Granting a posthumous pardon is an extraordinary remedy. But the tragic conviction of Mr. Arridy and his subsequent execution on Jan. 6, 1939, merit such relief based on the great likelihood that Mr. Arridy was, in fact, innocent of the crime for which he was executed, and his severe mental disability at the time of his trial and execution. Pardoning Mr. Arridy cannot undo this tragic event in Colorado history. It is in the interests of justice and simple decency, however, to restore his good name."[7]

On May 22, 2013, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said it was unlikely he would ever allow the execution of convicted killer Nathan Dunlap. Hickenlooper granted Dunlap an indefinite reprieve, citing doubts about the fairness of Colorado's death penalty.[8]

Method of executions

Lethal injection is the only permitted method of execution in Colorado,[9] although the state previously used hanging and the gas chamber.

Death row

Death row is located in Colorado State Penitentiary[10]. Currently there are three people awaiting execution:

  1. Nathan Dunlap, convicted and sentenced to death for murdering four people at a Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant in 1993.
  2. Mario Owens, who was convicted and received a jury's death determination in 2008 for the murder of a young couple, Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, both prosecution witnesses in a murder trial involving Owens.
  3. Robert Ray, who ordered the murders of Marshall-Fields and Wolfe while awaiting his own trial for murder.

Executions since 1977

Only one person has been executed by the state of Colorado since the reintroduction of capital punishment.

# Name Race Date of execution Victim Method Under Governor
1 Gary Lee Davis White October 13, 1997 Virginia May Lethal injection Roy R. Romer

Early history

Colorado was one of the first states to repudiate the death penalty by abolishing it in 1897 only to restore it once more in 1901 due to a number of lynchings that had occurred. In total, 101 people were executed in Colorado in the pre-Furman[11] period (1859–1972). Eleven of these executions were prior to Statehood; 90 since. All were executed as punishment for murder and all were male.[12][13]

Hanging was the sole method of execution until it was replaced by the gas inhalation in 1934. There were 69 hangings and 32 gassings.[12][13]

Luis Monge, gassed on June 2, 1967, was the last person put to death in Colorado prior to 1977. One other notable execution was the case of Jack Gilbert Graham who was executed on January 11, 1957 for killing 44 people by placing a bomb aboard United Airlines Flight 629.

Colorado is notable for being the last state to make use of lethal gas prior to the 1972 Supreme Court decision that effectively abolished capital punishment in the United States. Colorado performed the last pre-Furman gassing in 1967. Oklahoma performed the last pre-Furman electrocution in 1966.

Kansas performed the last pre-Furman hanging in 1965. Utah performed the last pre-Furman execution of a death sentence by firing squad in 1960 (and coincidentally, the first post-Furman execution by firing squad in 1977).

See also


  1. ^ "Colorado Death Penalty for Class 1 Felonies, Measure 2 (1974)". Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-1.3-1201
  3. ^
  4. ^ "COCODE". Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  5. ^ "COCODE". Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  6. ^ "Clemency". Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  7. ^ "Mental Retardation". Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  8. ^ "Untitled Document". Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  9. ^ "Methods of Execution". Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) was a criminal case in which the United States Supreme Court struck down all death penalty schemes in the United States in a 5–4 decision, with each member of the majority writing a separate opinion. Following Furman, in order to reinstate the death penalty, states had to at least remove arbitrary and discriminatory effects, to satisfy the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  12. ^ a b Regional Studies Central Archived 2008-10-17 at the Wayback Machine.; accessed November 14, 2016.
  13. ^ a b [1] Archived May 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.

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