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DeVos: Solidly anti-death penalty

Jon DeVos
The Friday Report
Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

No, no, I’m solidly for the death penalty, just not how we do it.

I don’t need to tell you who James Holmes is but if you live under a rock, he’s the guy who booby-trapped his apartment, then armed himself with two Glock pistols, a military shotgun and a semi-automatic Smith & Wesson rifle. Then he snuck into an Aurora movie theater on July 20, 2012, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others. This made him so famous that the Denver Post created a Holmes logo so fans could flip to trial coverage easily.

At his trial, he claimed to be insane. Of course he is. No culture could endure that embraced murder as a sane act. Cultured society also has an obligation to protect itself from monsters.

Holmes deserved a trial simply to verify that, yeah, this is the guy for certain, and for certain this is what he did. Then he should have been led to Denver’s tallest building, the Republic Plaza, and tossed off the top. Sure, 17th Street would have to be closed for a few minutes and city workers would need a water truck to help squeegee the remains down a sewer drain, but the whole works could be wrapped up for a few thousand bucks.

That didn’t happen. Instead of spending a few grand to excise a malignant cancer, we give the guy more notoriety than Taylor Swift and spend millions of dollars over three years preparing for a trial that cost tens of millions and wasted 120 days of grueling, graphic, shot-by-shot deconstruction of Holmes psychosis instead of the 20 minutes we could have spent tossing him out a window.

I’m not sure where irony trespasses into stupidity, but really? Spending millions of taxpayer dollars trying to put him to death while spending millions of taxpayer dollars trying not to put him to death? Who thought that up? Who got all those taxpayer millions?

Up to 1997 federal death penalty cases cost about $270,000. By 2004 it was over $620,000 and today the Holmes trial cost a cool 10 mil. Why so much? Lots of reasons: attorney pay keeps going up; death penalty trials grow increasingly complex; jury selection has become a rarified art, the Supreme Court keeps changing the rules; both sides try to outdo each other with high-priced experts, and neither last nor least, perpetrator mitigation has become a science. In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Kevin Wiggins’ death sentence because his attorneys failed to notify the jury that the defendant had a troubled childhood.

In 1997 prosecutors spent an average of 1,900 hours per trial but by 2004, that average had climbed to more than 3,500. Holmes racked up over $5 million just in pre-trial expenses. In 1985, a psychiatric evaluation consisted of an IQ test and a couple of interviews. Nowadays psychiatrists evaluate a defendant’s entire mental health history, routinely ordering CT and MRI scans, looking for mitigating circumstances to the crime. Expensive experts are increasingly engaged to painstakingly explain things to jurors, raising costs to defendants and prosecutors alike.

After four months and 241 witnesses meticulously dissecting mind-numbing detail, how could any 12 people agree on anything when two people can’t agree on the color of the bathroom? The most frustrating thing about the death penalty is that it’s hardly ever exercised. The average wait-time on death row is 15 years. Not even Comcast is that bad.

And Colorado? At a total cost exceeding $18 million dollars, we’re still hosting Nathan Dunlap in the Sterling Correctional Facility 22 years after he gunned down four co-workers in a fit of pique.

Death penalty? I’d vote for getting rid of it since we don’t seem to have the will to push monsters out of penthouse windows.


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