CASTLE ROCK, Colo. - A Colorado man, who admits killing a prison guard, avoided risking the death penalty by pleading guilty on Thursday to First Degree Murder and Possession of Contraband.
Edward Montour’s plea wraps up a legal saga which lasted nearly 12 years.
Montour was already serving a life sentence for killing his 11 month old daughter, Taylor, when he killed prison guard Eric Autobee at the Limon Correctional Facility in October 2002.
“He bludgeoned Eric from behind with a giant, heavy metal soup ladle,” said Douglas County District Attorney George Brauchler. “He caved his head in.”
Brauchler said Montour, who was immediately sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus 12 years, still deserves the death penalty.
“I believe that a man serving a life sentence for murder, whether it’s an infant or anyone else, who kills someone, especially a peace officer, needs to have some consequences greater than being sent to another facility, or being given a different view from a different cell,” he said.
But the life sentence pleases the slain prison guard’s parents.
“I don’t know if I’m happier for me or for Edward,” said Bob Autobee.
Autobee argued against the death penalty in the buildup to the second trial.
“This is bigger than Montour or me,” he told 7NEWS. “Billions of dollars are spent each year trying to put people to death and it hasn’t stopped one crime yet.”
Autobee says he hasn’t always felt that way.
“At first, I was angry and I believed in the death penalty,” he said. “But it was dragging me down and dragging my family down.”
He says the death penalty is not fairly and equally applied, so it should be abolished.
Montour’s attorney, David Lane, says the 12 year legal process cost taxpayers millions of dollars, “all to end up with a life sentence which they could have had years ago. The reason this dragged on so long is because prosecutors wanted him dead.”
Brauchler says it was Lane who kept gumming up the works.
He says that before the second trial, prosecutors drove down to Pueblo to talk to the Autobees.
“They made it clear they wanted to see a life sentence,” he said. “We had a fundamental disagreement about that.”
Brauchler called it a complicated case.
“It’s important to understand how we got here,” he said, “and how we judge what this outcome is.”
Brauchler said Montour was convicted of killing his 11 week old daughter in 1998.
He was serving time in Limon when he killed Autobee.
“He pleaded guilty, asked for the death sentence and received it,” the DA said. “Then the Supreme Court ruled that you can’t be sentenced to death by a judge. You can only be sentenced to death by a unanimous jury.”
The case came back from the appellate process in 2007.
“We spent three years fighting Mr. Montour’s motions about how this office was compensated for prosecuting the case against him,” the DA said. “That case could have wrapped up anytime over those three years, but that’s not the fight they wanted.”
The DA says Montour’s attorneys spent several years trying to figure out how to avoid a re-imposition of the death penalty.
“Last April, the judge (Richard Caschette) allowed Montour to withdraw his plea of guilty,” the DA said. “So, we were stuck with having to re-prosecute from scratch.”
He said, “None of that was a consequence of anything this office did wrong. It was a consequence of maneuvering and manipulation.”
Brauchler says he re-declared a commitment to seek the death penalty based on three aggravating factors. (The same ones that existed in 2003)
- Edward Montour committed First Degree Murder after being convicted of committing First Degree Murder.
- Edward Montour committed First Degree Murder while serving a sentence for conviction of a first class felony.
- Edward Montour murdered a peace officer in the performance of his duties.
He said it’s important to understand that “back in the day, life in prison didn’t necessarily mean life. It could mean 40 years or it could mean 20 years.”
The DA says the case took a dramatic turn around January 30.
He said that in April 2012, Montour decided to attack the underlying conviction for the death of his daughter.
“This office, long before I was DA, filed a motion saying, ‘you’ve got to do that soon.’ The Court ordered it. Low and behold, the Defense didn't file that motion until Sept. 2013, eleven months after the court ordered them to do it. And the sanctions for waiting that long? Nothing.”
He said Jury selection began Jan. 6, and that on the 30th, the defense “dropped 11 new experts on us.”
“The experts spoke to issues that hadn’t been litigated before,” he said, “like whether Taylor Montour might have suffered from Vitamin D deficiency and had Rickets sufficient to explain away all of her many, many injuries as something other than abuse.”
He said the court told prosecutors they could have 3 weeks to find experts to counter the 11 experts the defense must have spent months cultivating.
“Three weeks is not enough time to find experts on anything,” he said. “But we tried. We tried like hell.”
He said they found experts willing to help, but they couldn’t meet until March.
“We got snuck up on with these experts who we didn’t know, with medical reports we’d never seen,” Brauchler said. “So, I asked the court to strike them or give us time to find experts of our own, because at the end of the day, what this process is about, from start to stop, is a pursuit of truth. What the court told us is your ability to find truth is limited.”
It was about that time that the Deputy Medical Examiner in El Paso County changed his opinion about the cause of death of Taylor Montour from “homicide” to “undetermined.”
“We were hamstrung,” the DA said. “We made an appointment with experts at the Kemp Center, but they couldn’t meet until March 5. That wasn’t good enough for the court, which said, ‘no, we’re going to proceed with opening arguments. So we did.”
Brauchler told 7NEWS that they met with the Kemp Center experts at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“They told us they had no doubts that the injuries in the records and radiological reports they saw corroborate that the death of Taylor Montour absolutely was not from a short fall, and that she did not suffer from Rickets, that this was a product of abuse,” he said. “But, here’s the problem, I don’t get them for trial because the court said our deadline has passed.”
The DA said anyone who watched the opening statements saw what happens when one side is permitted to bring in a truckload of expert testimony to say one thing and the other side lacks the ability to respond.
“It’s like taking the field at the Super Bowl,” he said, “and the referee tells you the Seahawks get seven more wide receivers, and you don’t get anymore defensive backs. Play ball.”
The silver lining to this, Brauchler said, is that the Autobees can find some closure and peace.
“That has value to me,” he said. “I have great respect for the Autobees. They have such great faith. But I represent more than just Bob, Lola and Scott. I represent the community at large. So today, did we do justice? Yes, but it is justice with a lower case j.”