Theater Shooting Trial: A Brief History Of Capital Punishment In Colorado

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<p>(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)</p>
<p>This Sept. 24, 1997 file photo shows the table on which the convicted murderer Gary Lee Davis was executed in the Colorado State Penitentiary east of Canon City, Colo. </p>

Posted on July 22 | Updated July 23

Jurors in the Aurora theater shooting trial are about to decide whether James Holmes should be sentenced to death, having now convicted him of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in an attack three years ago. As this new phase of the trial begins, we're revisiting how Colorado has applied the death penalty in the past.

How long will it take jurors to decide Holmes' sentence?

On average, the sentencing phase in Colorado's death penalty cases takes about 21 days, according to research from Denver University's Justin Marceau and Hollis Whitson. That figure measures days spent in court before a sentence is rendered.

Who else is on Colorado's death row?

If Holmes is sentenced to death, it would be the first time in six years that a defendant has faced such a punishment from jurors. He would join three other men on Colorado's death row.

Robert Ray, 29, was the last man sentenced to death by jurors in June 2009. The Department of Corrections uses the date that the judge formally affirms the sentence for their records; Ray was formally sentenced by a judge in 2010.

The other two men on death row are Sir Mario Owen, sentenced in 2008, and Nathan Dunlap, sentenced in 1996.

Why is Nathan Dunlap still on death row?

As of 2013, the average death-row prisoner in the U.S. waits 15 years before an execution is carried out. But there's more to Dunlap's case.

In August 2013, he was scheduled to be executed for killing four people in a Chuck E. Cheese in 1993. However, Gov. John Hickenlooper indefinitely postponed Dunlap’s execution in May 2013.

Because it's been so long since the last execution in Colorado, some have even called it a de-facto non-capital punishment state.

So who was the last person here to be executed?

Gary Lee Davis was the last person to be executed in Colorado. Jurors took three hours to convict him in 1987 for the 1986 murder of Virginia May, but it took the state until 1997 to put him to death via lethal injection.

How many people has Colorado put to death?

Altogether, 78 people have been executed by the state of Colorado, according to the Department of Corrections. But for a while , the death penalty was delivered on a more regional basis, according to University of Colorado Boulder Professor Michael L. Radelet's research. His findings indicate that from 1859 to 1967, 102 lawful executions took place in Colorado.

Has the death penalty always been on the books in Colorado?

In 1972, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled the death penalty, as applied in three cases, was unconstitutional. That ended the death penalty in Colorado until 1979, when the state reinstated it.

Then in 1995, Colorado shifted the sentencing deliberations to a three-judge panel. In 2002, that was ruled unconstitutional and the power to determine a death sentence went back to jurors. At least four Colorado death sentences were overturned after the U.S Supreme Court decision, reports Reuters.

What crimes are punishable by death in Colorado?

Today, murder, treason and some instances of kidnapping are among the only crimes that can be punished by the death penalty in Colorado. For the death penalty to be issued, prosecutors must establish at least one aggravating factor, like "extreme indifference to the value of human life generally", was part of the crime.

However, if a defendant is found to be "mentally retarded," that is considered a "mitigating factor" that will cause the person to be sentenced to life in prison instead of to death. Another mitigating factor is the age of the person convicted. If you're under 18, you can't be sentenced to death in Colorado.