Two Killers On Colorado's Death Row Given Life Sentences
6:01 AM, Feb 24, 2003
The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday ruled
unconstitutional death sentences handed out by three-judge panels
in two murder cases.
The court ordered George Woldt and Francisco Martinez Jr. to be
resentenced to life in prison without parole.
The decision came after death sentences issued by three-judge
panels in Arizona were declared unconstitutional by the U.S.
Supreme Court in June. The justices ruled that juries, not judges,
must determine whether the death penalty is appropriate.
Colorado lawmakers then changed the law to require juries to
handle sentencing in capital cases.
In its ruling, the state court said the 1995 law setting up the
three-judge system was unconstitutional because judges made the
factual findings necessary to justify a death penalty.
Attorney Jean Dubofsky, who represented Martinez, said she was
not suprised by the ruling because the U.S. Supreme Court had
hinted that Colorado's law was unconstitutional.
"I thought the people had stretched pretty far to make their
arguments in this case and could have saved the state a lot of
money if they had just conceded that the statute was
unconstitutional and that the defendants sentenced under it were
entitled to life in prison," Dubofsky said.
State Public Defender David Kaplan said the state court followed
clear directions set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Attorney General Ken Salazar was angered over the court ruling.
"Martinez and Woldt kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered Brandy Duvall and Jacine Gielinski; because of the heinous nature of their crimes, the District Court judges' decisions, in my view, properly sentenced Martinez and Woldt to death," Salazar said.
"Colorado has a death penalty law, and the horrible crimes committed by these individuals certainly qualify them for the death penalty," Salazar continued.
"I am consulting with the district attorneys and the victims' families concerning further legal action, including possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court."
The decision in the Arizona case overruled a 1990 Supreme Court
ruling that allowed death-penalty sentencing by judges. In that
case, the high court determined that the Constitution requires that
a jury determine guilt, but allows a judge to determine whether
aggravating circumstances exist that justify the death penalty.
Five states -- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Nebraska --
adopted laws in which judges conducted sentencing in death-penalty
"What the sponsors and proponents did not anticipate in 1995
was that they were relying on an opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court
which would be overturned some twelve years after issuance," the
state ruling said.
During arguments in December, attorneys for the state argued
that juries in both cases had made the necessary findings for the
death penalty. They asked that the sentences stand or that a new
jury be impaneled for resentencing.
Attorneys for Woldt and Martinez argued that the U.S. Supreme
Court ruling required that their clients' sentences be overturned
and that backup sentences of life in prison without parole be
Woldt was convicted in the April 29, 1997, kidnapping, rape and
assault of Jacine Gielinski, a college student in Colorado Springs.
Martinez was convicted in the 1997 kidnapping, torture, rape and
murder of 14-year-old Brandy Duvall in Commerce City. Her battered body was later found in Clear Creek Canyon.
The ruling said while the Legislature last summer gave the
Supreme Court discretion to affirm Woldt's and Martinez's death
penalties or order new sentencing before a jury, the court could
not make such orders without violating the U.S. Supreme Court's
ruling in the Arizona case. That left the court with no choice but
to order sentences of life in prison without parole, the ruling
Governor Bill Owens issued the following statement after the decision was handed down Monday:
"The action by the State Supreme Court was disappointing, although not
surprising. As I said last June when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its
ruling regarding the death penalty, I had great concern that three convicted
murder-rapists on Colorado's death row might escape the death sentence.
Sadly for the victims and their families in two of the cases, those concerns
have been realized.
"I remain personally convinced that because of the heinous nature of these
crimes, any jury would have imposed the death penalty in these cases.
"I am a strong supporter of the death penalty. There is no question in my
mind that it is a deterrent. That's why, after the decision rendered by the
U.S. Supreme Court last year, I called the legislature into special session
to make the necessary changes in state statute.
Unfortunately, the state cannot retry those earlier cases under the revised
statutes. Two vicious criminals have been given a second chance to live, a
chance they never gave their victims."
Decison Could Affect Jeffco Death Case
There are three other men who have been sentenced to death in
Colorado. Two of them were sentenced by juries.
The initial appeal in the case of the third, William "Cody"
Neal, is pending in state Supreme Court because all death sentences
are automatically appealed. He was sentenced to three death
sentences after pleading guilty to killing three women and raping a
fourth in Jefferson County in 1998.
Kaplan said Monday's ruling could affect Neal's case.