I was the foreperson of the last jury in Colorado to impose a death sentence.
Many want to know what it’s like to be on such a jury, deciding between justice and mercy, life and death.
When I had to make that decision, it struck me that no matter what I decided or how carefully I decided it, half the people involved would be angry. Some would even hate me.
This extends a decade later to our current death penalty policy debate.
I’ve listened as politicians and supporters of repeal described the death penalty as barbaric, disgusting, cruel and racist. By implication, then, they think I am all these things. After all, I decided to impose the death penalty. It’s not prosecutors who decide, or even judges. These heavy decisions are made by ordinary citizens and voters like me.
Let me tell you unequivocally that my jury was the furthest thing from barbaric. We agonized over our decision. We came together from diverse backgrounds (yes, there is diversity even in Arapahoe County) to do a job none of us wanted. We did our job courageously, with respect for the law and the process, and with compassion for everyone, including the defendant.
Reaching a verdict wasn’t easy. At times we fought and lashed out with emotion. Other times we sat unsure what to do. Often, we were afraid of where our decisions might lead. We felt alone, marooned in a cramped jury room.
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But we learned to depend on and trust each other and reached a unanimous decision I am convinced, even a decade later, is correct.
By now, most Coloradans don’t remember the horrific murders of Javad Fields and Vivian Wolfe on June 20, 2005. I remember. I know from 10 weeks of trial. From the testimony of 111 witnesses. From immersing myself in the gruesome details of a crime perpetrated so the defendant could silence a few minutes of testimony against him.
This same defendant would later ask for mercy. We said “no,” and that is a burden we have to bear. We are strong enough.
If only our state legislature would act with the same honor, diligence, and care as my jury. Instead, they rammed their legislation through with the bare minimum of notice and debate.
Whatever happened to the “statewide conversation” that former governor and now presidential candidate John Hickenlooper wanted us to have?
The best way to have that conversation would be to put this matter to a popular vote. Not every bill deserves a referendum, but surely this is important enough.
Juries are comprised of voters. Why not let those same voters have a say? A vote would require everyone to think about this issue and listen to all the voices in the conversation, not only those who preempt debate with cries of “barbaric!” and “racist!” despite knowing little of the realities.
Alas, those calling for repeal don’t want a conversation and a vote, because then it would be a fair fight.
Carl Dubler (@cdubler) is a Centennial resident and the author of “Playing God in Chair Twelve: A Juror’s Faith-Changing Journey.” PlayingGodBook.com
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