Bob Autobee wanted death for the inmate accused of killing his son, a prison guard, the first time he was prosecuted over a decade ago. But a maze-like journey through anger, depression, and alienation from God and then newfound faith and forgiveness has led him to plead for mercy for Edward Montour as he is prosecuted a second time.
That transformation led Autobee to take the stand Thursday as he tried to convince a judge to let him testify against the death penalty should Autobee be convicted in his upcoming trial. He looked across the courtroom at Montour, seated at the defense table flanked by his lawyers, and said he saw hope and conversion in him. He said that executing Montour would bring his family only more grief.
"I would be there by his side if they put him to death," said Autobee, a former prison guard himself who also has been protesting outside court against District Attorney George Brauchler's decision to seek the death penalty.
He nodded and waved at Montour when he passed by the table after finishing his testimony.
Montour, who was serving a life sentence for killing his infant daughter, originally pleaded guilty to beating Eric Autobee to death in the kitchen at the Limon Correctional Facility in 2002 and was sentenced to death by a judge. That sentence was thrown out by the Colorado Supreme Court in 2007, and he was later able to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.
While the Colorado constitution gives crime victims the right to be heard during legal proceedings, whether or not they should be allowed to give their opinion about the death penalty during the sentencing phase isn't settled. A 1991 U.S. Supreme Court ruling says allowing victims to testify in favor of the death penalty would hurt a defendant's right to a fair trial, but it doesn't address the reverse scenario.
After Autobee's testimony, defense lawyer David Lane praised his courage and Chief Deputy District Attorney John Topolnicki said he had the upmost respect for him, adding that he is glad that Autobee is doing better.
In an interview before the hearing, Brauchler said he supports Autobee's right to testify about how his son's killing impacted him but said weighing in on the death penalty would infringe on the jury's job.
"You don't get to tell the jury what the appropriate sentence is," he said.
Judge Richard Caschette said he would issue a written ruling later.