Delayed and denied? Justice for 
Aurora killer hangs in balance

The wheels of justice in the James Holmes case started their glacial-paced grind this week in a courtroom not far from the theater where he massacred a dozen moviegoers. For those who may have forgotten just how horrifyingly unhurried our justice system moves, be reminded.

Indeed, beyond the prosecution’s release of new evidence exposing the lucid depravity of Holmes, the most notable part of this week’s preliminary proceedings is just how exasperatingly slowly even an open-and-shut case like this one moves.

Eric Sonderman, a respected political commentator, hit the nail on the head in a Facebook post this week: “Our legal system marches on with a week-long preliminary hearing for James Holmes. Is this somehow a whodunit?”

Prosecutors, of course, have no choice but to tend to the case with deliberative care. And for this, there is a reason that transcends deserved due process: Holmes’ public defenders, and a complementary band of anti-death penalty do-gooders, are circling this case in search of any procedural misstep or other opportunity to undermine the prosecution.

For the families of those who were slain in that Aurora theater last summer, conclusive justice is more than likely years and years away.

No sensibly constituted system of justice would need years to firmly establish guilt in a case that is the literal antithesis of a whodunit. But in the case of James Holmes, our system will.

All of which is something of a sad reminder — timely justice for victims takes an indisputable back seat to the seemingly unlimited rights of criminals — including barbarians like Holmes — to delay, redirect and malevolently maneuver judicial deliberations into a morass of the incidental and away from the essential question of guilt or innocence.

And here, the story gets worse.

As I noted in a column late last year, if some misguided politicians get their way, ultimate justice for Holmes may not only be delayed, full justice may be denied altogether.

Claire Levy, a shrill but savvy legislator from Boulder, is promising to push for a full-on repeal of the death penalty this session, a move that would be akin to a writ of partial amnesty for the Aurora murderer and also Nathan Dunlap, the monster who’s been lounging on death row for years, after gunning down a bunch of innocent children at a Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza restaurant.

A major obstacle to repealing the death penalty in the past has been Sen. John Morse, who became Senate president Wednesday.

A few years back, Morse and I teamed up to fend off an identical bill, defeating the death penalty repeal by only a single vote in the Senate after the bill had already cleared the Democratic-controlled House. Morse showed remarkable political courage through it all, even standing up to the Senate president at the time, a man from his own party who was the bill’s sponsor.

But now one publication is reporting that Morse is considering reversing his position. Now that he’s the Senate president — grab your gag reflex here — he’s apparently had a change of heart.

Did you hear the cheer that just went out? That was Nathan Dunlap. Or was it James Holmes? It could have been either one, but it certainly wasn’t the family of any of the victims of these slayings.

No, these days the victims of horrific crimes apparently get short shrift in the courtroom and the Legislature, too.

It is no secret that this is an hour of rampant partisanship in our country, and Colorado’s legislative process isn’t immune. This year all sorts of unseemly causes will make their way through the legislative process, after which Gov. John Hickenlooper will decide their fate.

Eliminating the death penalty is a loser for Democrats, and it is a loser for Colorado.

Unfortunately, the obvious isn’t altogether obvious to those who will render the final judgment on the death penalty in this state. Now, we citizens can only wait and see.

James Holmes, meanwhile, can rest a little easier knowing that, thanks to a gummed-up American legal system, for him justice will be delayed. As good as that probably sounds to the Butcher of Aurora, there is another possibility lurking in the marble halls of our state Capitol that Holmes will find even more appealing: justice denied.

Josh Penry is the former minoriy leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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It has been over 15 years since the last execution in Colorado. Is the death penalty an actual deterrent to capital crimes or merely societal revenge?

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