Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey announced yesterday that his office would seek the death penalty in the prosecution of Dexter Lewis. As the editorial board of the Denver Post notes, Morrissey is following the law as it is written in making this decision (the Post has repeatedly editorialized in opposition to the death penalty as public policy):
Still, we're not about to castigate Morrissey's decision as illegitimate or unprincipled just because our own position differs. Capital punishment, however rarely employed in this state (just one execution since 1967), is in fact an option that remains on the books. Morrissey isn't resorting to some dubious tactic or stretching the purpose of the law. He maintains Lewis inflicted the fatal stab wounds last October on five people who were murdered at Fero's Bar and Grill in a crime of mind-boggling brutality.
Indeed, if anyone qualifies for consideration under the death statute, it surely would be a man allegedly responsible for such a crime. Prosecutors are not obliged to take a vow of unilateral abstinence on the death penalty just because some of us detest it, especially when a significant number of other citizens support it.
No, the only politicians who can end these legal spectacles that drag on inconclusively for decades are state lawmakers and of course the governor — and yet they have chosen not to do their part.
A bill to end Colorado's death penalty was filed in the legislature this year but failed in the House Judiciary Committee after Gov. John Hickenlooper said he opposed it. Since then, of course, Hickenlooper has granted a temporary reprieve to death-row resident Nathan Dunlap as well as signaled his personal opposition to capital punishment.