Capital punishment in Colorado

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

Colorado was the last state to perform an execution in the pre-Furman period (1967),[1] but since 1977 executed only one prisoner, and may thus be considered as de facto abolitionist since October 11, 2007.

Current development[edit]

The death penalty was reinstated in Colorado on January 1, 1975.[2] The previous death penalty statute was declared unconstitutional due to the United States Supreme Court Furman v. Georgia ruling in 1972, which found all states' death penalty statutes unconstitutional. In 1976, Colorado's new death penalty statutes were approved by the Supreme Court and Colorado was allowed to resume performing executions.

As in all U.S. states, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime [3] or mentally disabled[4] are constitutionally precluded from being executed.

Capital crimes[5][edit]

  • First-degree murder with at least 1 of 17 aggravating factors[6][7]

Kennedy v. Louisiana invalidated existing state statutes which made the following crimes punishable by death:

Sentencing and death row[edit]

Suitability of the death sentence is determined by the jury. Life in prison is an option. Death row is located in Sterling Correctional Facility.
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 1994.
  2. Sir 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.

Until 2011, death row was located in Cañon City, Colorado. That year, the ACLU raised an appeal about human conditions and all three were moved for more access to sunlight. All the murders listed above occurred in Aurora.[citation needed] Prosecutors had sought the death penalty against James Holmes, the perpetrator of the 2012 Aurora shooting.[10]


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.[11]

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 also pointed to Arridy's intellectual disabilities. He had an IQ of 46 and functioned like a toddler. 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."[12]

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.[13]

Method of executions[edit]

Lethal injection is the sole method of execution in Colorado.[14]

Executions since 1977[edit]

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

Current attempts at abolition[edit]

In 2009 a bill was introduced that would have abolished the death penalty as an option in criminal cases. It successfully made it through the Colorado House of Representatives, but was halted in the state Senate when it failed to pass a vote that was held there. Besides ending the death penalty in the state of Colorado, the bill planned to use the funds normally dedicated to such trials and use them instead to help fund the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. This department focuses on solving cold cases. The funds would allow for additional staff members.[13]

Earlier history[edit]

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.[15] In total, 101 people were executed in Colorado in the pre-Furman period (1859–1967). Eleven of these executions were prior to Statehood; 90 since. All were executed as punishment for murder and all were male.[16][17]

Hanging was the sole method of execution until it was replaced by the gas chamber in 1934. There were 69 hangings and 32 gassings.[16][17]

Luis Monge, gassed on June 2, 1967, was the last person put to death in Colorado prior to 1977.[1]

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[edit]


  1. ^ a b [1] Archived February 23, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Death Penalty Information Center". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  4. ^ Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
  5. ^ "Crimes Punishable by the Death Penalty". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Aggravating Factors For Capital Punishment By State
  7. ^ Include perjury causing the execution of an innocent
  8. ^ "COCODE". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  9. ^ "COCODE". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  10. ^ Jim Spellman, Hunter Parsons and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN (1 April 2013). "Prosecution pushes death penalty for Colorado theater shooting suspect". CNN. Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  11. ^ "Clemency". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  12. ^ "Mental Retardation | Death Penalty Information Center". Retrieved 2014-02-17. 
  13. ^ a b "Untitled Document". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  14. ^ "Methods of Execution". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  15. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Capital Punishment (Death Penalty)". Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  16. ^ a b Regional Studies Central
  17. ^ a b [2] Archived May 5, 2008 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]