Death penalty rarely used in Colorado; Last execution in 1997

DENVER - Monday, prosecutors announced they will seek the death penalty against Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes.

But even if Holmes is convicted and sentenced to death, it may be decades before he would face lethal injection.

In the 37 years since Colorado reinstituted the death penalty, only one person has been executed. Gary Lee Davis was executed in 1997.

Davis, 53, was put to death by lethal injection for his conviction in the 1986 slaying of a Byers woman.

Before that, the last person executed in Colorado was Luis Monge in 1967. Monge was executed in the gas chamber for murdering his wife and three children. Prior to his death, Colorado averaged one execution per year for the years the gas chamber replaced hanging in the state, which was 1934.

Monge was the last person executed in the United States before the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1967. In 1976, Colorado's new death penalty statutes were approved by the Supreme Court and Colorado was allowed to continue performing executions.

There are three people currently on Colorado's death row.

Nathan Dunlap has been behind bars for 20 years. He was 19 years old when he walked into a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora in 1993 at closing time and shot five people in the head, before taking $1,500 from a safe. Three teenage employees and a mother of two died. One person survived the shooting.

Dunlap's final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in February, but an execution date has not yet been set.

The others on Colorado's death row are Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray. They were convicted and sentenced to death for their roles in the murders of Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe.

The death sentences of at least six other death-row inmates have been thrown out since Dunlap was sentenced, according to the Associated Press.

In the past few years, Colorado lawmakers have debated whether to to repeal the death penalty in Colorado. The issue was debated yet again this session, but House Bill 1264 was dropped.