“Both Ways Beth?” Denver DA Candidate Flips on Death Penalty

Beth McCann, left, appears to have changed her position on the death penalty to more closely resemble Michael Carrigan's stance on the issue.

Beth McCann, left, appears to have changed her position on the death penalty to more closely resemble Michael Carrigan’s stance on the issue.

The race for the Democratic nomination for Denver District Attorney is one of the more interesting battles to watch in Colorado this Primary season. Three candidates — Michael Carrigan, Beth McCann, and Kenneth Boyd — are running to replace outgoing, term-limited Denver D.A. Mitch Morrissey.

The winner of the June 28th Democratic Primary in Democrat-heavy Denver will almost certainly go on to wrap up the job in the General Election, which is particularly enticing because the Denver D.A. can serve three terms, for a total of 12 years, without ever really needing to worry about re-election efforts again. The Democratic Primary has been a heated affair thus far and has emerged as the single most expensive Primary race in the state (not counting federal races). University of Colorado Regent and attorney Michael Carrigan has long been considered the odds-on favorite in this race, which may help explain why State Rep. Beth McCann is flipping her position on a pretty major issue.

On Sunday the Denver Post ran a long comparison piece on the race that includes several answers to specific policy questions. Here’s how McCann and Carrigan responded to the following question:” The death penalty is seldom used in Denver. What is your position on the death penalty and when — if at all — would you find it appropriate to seek that punishment?”


Carrigan will not seek the death penalty if elected.

“It’s inefficient, it’s expensive, it prolongs the process and is something that is not practiced in the industrialized world,” Carrigan said.



McCann will not seek the death penalty if elected.

“I would not bring it because I don’t believe in it,” McCann said. “I don’t think the state should be in the business of killing people.” [Pols emphasis]


The problem here is that McCann’s statement that she would refuse to seek the death penalty is not what she has been saying on the campaign trail for 18 months. Here’s what McCann said about the death penalty in a September story for Law Week – September 2015 (PDF file):

I am personally opposed to the death penalty, and I voted in the legislature to repeal it. But it is the law, and as the DA, you are bound by the law. [Pols emphasis] So I suppose there might be an awful, horrific case where I might file, but it would have to be egregious.

By contrast, here’s Carrigan’s answer to the Law Week question:

I’m against the death penalty. It’s expensive and inefficient, and it’s not something that should continue. If I was elected DA, I would support a repeal.

In a February 2016 forum in House District 8, McCann expanded a little on her previous answer regarding the death penalty (skip ahead to about the 20 minute mark for McCann’s answer).

I am opposed to it. I need to make that very clear…Now, that said, we do have a victim’s rights act…I believe, in deference to people who have lost a child, lost a mother, lost a family member, in the most heinous of circumstances.

That if i’m the DA, I at least owe that family the right to sit down and talk to them. I’m not going to bring the death penalty — I’ll explain my thinking and reasoning to them…but I owe them that courtesy…

And I wonder what other laws Mr. Carrigan would disregard? Because if he doesn’t like the law, then he is just not going to apply it? That is not what the oath is for the District Attorney. You take an oath to uphold the law. So I believe that I would have to respect that.” [Pols emphasis]

Okay, so McCann does not believe in the death penalty and would not seek the death penalty if elected District Attorney…but she would pretend to be open to the idea so that families could tell their side of the story (even though McCann already made up her mind).  McCann concludes her answer by criticizing Carrigan for “disregarding” laws — which she just said she would do herself — as a way of attacking Carrigan’s much simpler answer that he would not pursue the death penalty, period.

The death penalty, as Gov. John Hickenlooper well knows, is not an issue with much room in the middle. You are either against the death penalty or in favor of the death penalty, and the more you try to massage your answer one way or the other, the more confusing your position becomes. McCann can’t very well say now that she would just flat-out refuse to seek the death penalty after nearly a year of equivocating.

34 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. SixPointBull says:

    Hard to see why Carrigan is the front-runner. Outside of support from a few law firms, Carrigan doesn't have a very visible campaign. I've gotten a lot more mail from McCann and Boyd. I'd say McCann is the one to beat. She has been elected and re-elected four times to the state house, and many people in Denver will remember her as manager of safety under Mayor Webb. Plus it helps to be the only woman running against two men. 

    • Democrat1207 says:

      As a Denver Democrat Carrigan is the most visible candidate to me. He always at one event or another and I've gotten the most mail for him. I think the fact that Carrigan has served as a prosecutor and a defense attorney is good, plus he is consistent on the death penalty. It is really quite easy to see why he is the front-runner. 

    • spaceman65 says:

      Being the only woman didn't help her in her previous DA race, when she and John Walsh lost to Mitch Morrissey.  It'll be interesting to see if she and Carrigan split votes similar to her and Walsh and if that allows Boyd to be a surprise winner. 


      • Voyageur says:

        I really liked Walsh, again because of my intense interest in juvenile justice issues.

        • spaceman65 says:

          Yeah, he would've been great.  He's done pretty well at as U.S. Attorney.

          • Voyageur says:

            Yes, he's been a fine U.S. attorney   but the things I care most about are local in the state courts and DA.   By the time somebody gets into federal court, it's kind of beyond help.   You get some 16 year old shop[lifter or status offender, there still may be a chance to save them.   We had a young man live with us for a while –his dad was actually an assistant denver da and an alcoholic — who had done some stupid but not vicious stuff.   He turned his life around and is a fine father and husband today.   Of course, not all these stories end happily.   But a society that just sacrifices its kids on the altar of the war on drugs, or "super predators " etc. is a doomed society.  So often DAs run as "tough on crime"   that's horseshit.   be tough where you must, but God bless the child that's got his own.

  2. davebarnes says:

    I do not see any difference among the 3 — except for Mike's stand on the death penalty. Hopefully, I will get to vote for him in October.

  3. TobiasFunke says:

    It bothers me that, until caucus, she was routinely saying that she would have the hearings with the families, but in private emails would tell people she would not seek the death penalty.

    And now this? Now attacking Carrigan for what is supposedly her stance as well? 

    I like Rep McCann an awful lot, but this really doesn't look good.

    • Voyageur says:

      She has always told me she is against the death penalty.   I spoke for her in caucus and her opposition to the death penalty was one of the specific points she asked me to make.  Plus, as a legislator, she actually voted to repeal the death penalty.

      I happen to disagree with her on the issue and once served as foreman in a death penalty case,  So she certainly wasn't trying to get my vote by focusing on her opposition.  

      The main reason I support her is her emphasis on reforming the juvenile justice system and support for juvenile justice reform.   She sponsored the law that now requires a hearing before a judge before you can charge a juvenile as an adult.   Most DAs, including Denver's fought that change, wanting to keep the sole power to charge a juvenile as an adult.  But she held her ground, passed the law, and Colorado is a better state because of it.  Carriagan is a good man too, but I'm a little tired of the good old boy network running everything.  For Carrigan, it's just a stepping stone for mayor or governor.  For Beth, the law and juvenile justice has been her life's work.

      • Democrat1207 says:

        Good old boy network how so? Just because white male doesnt mean not strong progressive who great for the office. Doesn't seem like this is just a steeping stone for him, seems passionate about the office. 

        • Voyageur says:

          What good old boy network?  You mean the mayor and the 17th St law firms are hotbeds of populism?  Who knew?

          • spaceman65 says:

            Some may see McCann's constant seeking of public offices in a similar way.  Moving from public office to public office as she is term-limited out.  Not exactly who I want as DA, and this is her second time running for DA.  Though I think both her and Carrigan will be infinitely better than Morrissey, who has been . . . well, I'm glad there's term limits on this one



            • Pseudonymous says:

              Beth might want to watch out.  I think Faye Griffin has a patent on moving from public office to public office.

            • TobiasFunke says:

              This is the other reason I'm not in support of Rep. McCann. I feel like this DA job is just the "next" thing for her. I've never once gotten the sense from our conversations that she even really knew why she was doing it. 


              • Voyageur says:

                Well, maybe juvenile justice isn't the priority with you it is for me, Tobias.   That is definitely her strong suit and much more important than the death penalty, which neither would pursue.  Pols may think the fervor with which a candidate doesn't pursue the death penalty is a big thing, but too me,non-pursuit is non pursuit.  Carriagan, of course, is coming from CU regents and I definitely think McCann's experience as manager of safety, prosecutor and legislator is better tailored to DA than CU regents, but to each his   own.

  4. yellowbear says:

    This is why Colorado Pols is a sham. This blog has tried to tip the scales for Carrigan from the get go. He has never been the "odds-on favorite" but if people call him that enough maybe it will make it so. All three candidates have done polling  and all three polls have McCann far ahead with a double digit lead. I am not a McCann supporter by the way but I am tired of the shadiness in this race. Even when Carrigan did negative polling on McCann, her numbers did not move. Also – go back and listen to Carrigan's interview with Silverman a year ago and see if his DP stance was as clear as it is now. Just sayin. 

    • Voyageur says:

      Pols isn't a sham, but it sure does love it some 17th st. law firms.  From what I hear, she's running very well with a lot of Bernie's voters, who know a little bit about being outside the good old boy network and they may put her over the top.  It's simply a case of a woman having to be twice as good as a man to get the same respect.   Fortunately, in this case, McCann passes that test with ease!

    • Colorado Pols says:

      Carrigan won top line at assembly, he has substantially more money than either candidate and the vast majority of endorsements. That doesn't mean he'll definitely win, but calling him the front runner is a no-brainer.

  5. I remember when she would admit she supported it, but was willing to prevaricate if that is what people wanted. 


  6. doremi says:

    I'm extremely unhappy with Colorado Pols on this headline and the way this article is worded.  I have talked with Rep. McCann about this and she noted to me what the law requires and that she would have to mention to the families of the victims what is available, but that she is opposed to the death penalty. 

    I think you are playing GOTCHA on this.  I do believe McCann has tried to be clear, but you are anxious to looking for variance.

    I've noted before Pols' favoritism for Democratic candidates (incensed when you were so pro-Bennet back in 2010….now you complain about how mealy mouthed he is) and have noted it in this race also.   BIG DISAPPOINTMENT in Colorado Pols for me.

    • BlueCat says:

      ummm… these are all Dem candidates so partisan favoritism isn't an issue here. I’m not sure if you’re saying that ColPols shows favoritism among Dem candidates or for Dems over Rs but this is a progressive blog and format for opinion, not a hard news blog so…. ?

      And while various posters here have been complaining non-stop about Bennet, I don't think Colorado Pols has been big on complaining about him. Maybe you haven't been paying attention for a while?

      I agree ColPols is making over much over McCann's alleged flip flopping which doesn't seem all that flip-floppy to me.

      • spaceman65 says:

        The problem with McCann on this issue is her lack of a clear position.  Her part about "it is the law, and as the DA, you are bound by the law" is complete, and utter horse shit.  Whether to seek the death penalty is a decision vested in the DA, who has sole discretion to decide whether to seek death or not.  So the "law" she claims to be bound to follow is in fact unfettered prosecutorial discretion.  Her statement is intellectually dishonest.


      • Voyageur says:

        Maybe "partisanship" doesn't describe a Democratic squabble but we do have ourrselves some factions.

        • BlueCat says:

          I was just trying to understand what sort of partisanship, inter or intra, doremi was complaining about and why either or both would be "a big disappointment" on a blog that's mainly about expressing opinions.

    • Pseudonymous says:

      Is the Denver Post lying?  They quoted her on the death penalty as saying, “I would not bring it because I don’t believe in it.  I don’t think the state should be in the business of killing people.”  There's no room in that to let the family have input.  She said, again, unless the Post is lying, she won't bring the death penalty.  You're saying she will bring a death penalty case, if victims want it.  I assume you're also expressing what you believe to be true.  One of you is wrong.

      Here's my thought.  If she wasn't trying to massage this point, she could help herself a lot by just being honest.  As DA she would sometimes seek to have criminals killed who she believed were eligible to be executed.  Or, she simply would not because she thinks it's wrong.  This isn't a hard position to stake out.  She's suffering from a self-induced case of the wobblies, which many fine politicians encounter when they won't say what they actually believe for fear it will be used against them (as it should, because their policy choices are fair game).

      • Voyageur says:

        Would the Denver Post mislead?   Is a four pound robin fat?   Does a bear in the woods use the facilities.   The great, unanswerable questions of life.   Vote yes on all three.


      • Voyageur says:

        The family often has input.   I remember talking to the Boulder DA Alex Hunter about the Michael Bell case, who killed four poplin a canyon nearBoulder.   I had just finished being foreman of the jury in a Denver cop killer case that deadlocked at stage 3, whether aggravation outweighs mitigation, and we thus reverted to a life sentence.   He told me "If you could only get eight for a death penalty in Denver, I'll never get 12 in Boulder."   But he still talked to the families, and explained that life without parole atlas meant closure while a death penalty in Colorado probably mean just a lifetime of appeals, and that the family would go through that helltvime and time again.

        In the end, the families signed off on the deal.   But a responsible DA doesn't just saw "screw what the family wants," he goes through this educational process.   Death penalty cases are incredibly emotional and I assume that consultation was what Beth was talking about.   But the reality, at least under Hickenlooper, is that Colorado doesn't really have a death penalty, even for the most heinous of crimes.

    • Colorado Pols says:

      Dear Sir or Madam,

      Thank you for pointing out the inherent bias at ColoradoPols.com TOWARD/AGAINST the CANDIDATE/CAMPAIGN which you so clearly HATE/LOVE. 

      In the future, we will try harder to to be more favorably biased TOWARD/AGAINST the CANDIDATE/CAMPAIGN which you so clearly HATE/LOVE.



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