Can killing Colorado’s death penalty help the state catch murderers?
by Erica Grossman
At 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 13, 1997, Gary Lee Davis sat down to an early evening bowl of ice cream before a visit with his priest and two daughters. After the meeting, at 7:30 p.m., he took a shower and put on a clean set of clothes. Half an hour later, Davis was accompanied down a hallway and led into a special chamber. There, a large curtain was pulled back to reveal an observation room where 11 people sat, staring back at a seated Davis. A brief phone call was made to then-Gov. Roy Romer, who gave the “go-ahead.” At 8:24 p.m., assistants inserted several unmarked IV lines into Davis’ veins. Some contained a harmless saline solution. Others contained sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which mixed in Davis’ bloodstream, depressing his central nervous system and causing his heart to stop beating. At 8:33 p.m., Davis was pronounced dead at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City.
Davis, who had been found guilty of the brutal abduction, rape and murder of Ginny May in 1987, was the first person to be legally executed in Colorado since the 1960s.
Outside the prison gates, a crowd of nearly 200 people had gathered, some pleased by Davis’ death, most silently partaking in a candlelight vigil in opposition to the state-ordered execution.
Eleven years later, on the other side of the state, a far less solemn crowd erupted in applause as a former inmate of that same prison exited a Ft. Collins courtroom. His name was Timothy Masters. On June 22, 2008, he was vacated of the murder conviction of Peggy Hettrick, a 37-year-old woman whose sexually mutilated body was found in 1987 — the same year Davis was sentenced to death.
Masters, who was 15 years old at the time of Hettrick’s murder, was charged, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the act in 1999. He spent the following nine years behind bars before testing confirmed that the DNA evidence found at the scene of the crime did not match Masters’. His conviction was overturned, and he is now a free man.
While the barbarous assaults and murders of Ginny May and Peggy Hettrick have little in common at first glance, they are both connected by a piece of proposed state legislation — House Bill 1274.
The bill, which is slated to go before the House Appropriations Committee within the next two weeks, proposes to abolish the death penalty in the state of Colorado and use the funds saved on capital punishment to pay for a newly formed cold-case unit at the Colorado Bureau of Investigations (CBI).
Advocates of the bill, including its drafter Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, see this as Colorado’s opportunity to trade our most severe and irreversible form of punishment for a chance at resolving unsolved homicides. Those in opposition denounce HB 1274’s plausibility and morality. Though the discussion behind the death penalty has been a heated philosophical debate in our society for decades, HB 1274 shows that, in the face of a troubled economy, citizens are beginning to consider cost-effectiveness when determining the fate of convicted killers.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Friday, March 20, 2009