CASTLE ROCK - Prosecutors found themselves in the uncomfortable position on Thursday of having to ask a judge not to allow the father of a slain Colorado corrections officer to testify about his opposition to the very death penalty prosecutors are seeking.
Bob Autobee has long voiced his opinion on the death penalty and even gone as far as to protest the start of the trial against the man accused of murdering his son. Thursday, he got his first chance to tell a judge why he feels he should be able to tell a jury why he believes the death penalty to be wrong.
Edward Montour has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2002 death of Limon Correctional Facility Officer Eric Autobee. Prosecutors believe Autobee, already serving a life sentence for murdering his infant daughter, used a heavy duty kitchen ladle to murder Autobee. Testimony in the much-delayed capital-murder trial is set to begin next month.
Should jurors find Montour guilty of first-degree murder, they will move into the sentencing phase of the trial where they will be asked to consider putting Montour to death. Citing Colorado law, Autobee says he is entitled to speak during the sentencing phase and intends to tell the jury he is opposed to the death penalty.
"There are other ways to punish people without killing them," stated Autobee on Thursday in a Douglas County courtroom. "I would hope my son would be proud of me for standing up for what's right."
Prosecutors are asking the judge to disallow Autobee from telling jurors his thoughts on the death penalty. Chief Deputy District Attorney John Topolnicki said the sentencing phase in a death penalty case is unique in Colorado law as only a jury - and not a judge -- can deliver a death sentence. A jury could be unfairly swayed by emotion, he said.
"I know [the Autobees] personally. You'll never find better people on this earth," said Topolnicki as he told the judge he wasn't trying to throw up any unfair roadblocks.
Bob Autobee's attorney disagreed during the morning hearing. "It's not unconstitutional for Mr. Autobee to ask for mercy," said attorney Iris Eytan. "He has already lost his son. Why does he have to lose his voice?"
Complicating matters is the fact that Montour's defense says it has strong evidence to suggest Montour was wrongly convicted of murdering his infant daughter in 1998 and thus was improperly imprisoned. Even prosecutors in the Autobee case have publicly stated there may now be a problem with Montour's '98 conviction.
The judge stated he would soon issue a written ruling on Bob Autobee's request to speak during the sentencing phase of the trial.
(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)