Should Chris Watts face the death penalty? A look at capital punishment in Colorado

Posted at 10:51 PM, Oct 25, 2018

DENVER – In a matter of days, Christopher Watts went from pleading in an interview with Scripps station KMGH for his wife and kids to come home, to wearing an orange jumpsuit and becoming one of Colorado's most notorious accused killers.

Police arrested Watts late on the night of Aug. 15 for allegedly killing his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and young daughters Celeste and Bella.

Watts faces three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree murder – victim under 12 in a position of trust, one count of first-degree unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body, according to Colorado court records and documents.

This isn't a story about why he did it; it is a story about a decision that could cost him his life.

Five of the aforementioned counts make him eligible for the death penalty. 

Many Coloradans and people from around the world are already calling for Watts' execution and have even created a private Facebook group dedicated the topic.

Ultimately, the decision on whether to seek the death penalty against Watts lies solely on the shoulders of one person: Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke.

Rourke has 63 days to make the decision after Watts' arraignment, a hearing that has not yet even been scheduled. A status conference hearing is scheduled for Nov. 19.

As the world waits for his decision, we're taking a deeper look at capital punishment in Colorado through the eyes of those who have been there.

A mother and lawmaker whose son was gunned down, the prosecutor who decided the Aurora theater shooter should face death, a lawyer who says capital punishment is nothing short of murder, and a juror whose belief forever changed from one experience.

Death penalty juror says experience changed him

"I grew up believing an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, kind of deal and so I was in support of the death penalty,"  former juror Nate Becker said.

Becker said he changed his mind on capital punishment after serving on the Edward Montour death penalty case in Douglas County.

"I walked away angry, I walked away disappointed in our judicial system," he said. "I felt the death penalty is not justice. It's vengeance and vengeance doesn't belong in our courts."

Becker's time on a death penalty jury came to an abrupt and emotional end after the judge let the defense present evidence sympathetic to the defendant. Evidence Becker believes should have come to light long before he was asked to potentially put a man to death. Evidence so strong, the prosecution ended up taking the death penalty off the table.

"It became very apparent to me that we are asking people to come to this conclusion and not providing them all of the information. We're hiding facts and we're hiding the information and asking them to do that," said Becker.

He also brings up another perspective: what about the heavy burden that kind of decision leaves on jurors?

"Is it fair? Is it fair to ask a person to live with that for the rest of their life?" Becker asked.

Watch the full interview with Nate Becker below: 


Prosecutor in Aurora theater shooting trial says some cases warrant death

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler tried one of the highest-profile death penalty cases in recent history.

"It was probably the hardest professional decision that I've had to make," Brauchler said.

He added that while the Aurora movie theater shooter did not face the death penalty, there was still justice in the case.

Ultimately, one juror saved the life of the shooter responsible for killing twelve innocent people inside the Aurora theater.

"We're not Texas, we're not Georgia, we're not Florida. We're the state of Colorado. We do this a bit differently and I think we do it the right way," Brauchler said. "The death penalty in Colorado is appropriate to distinguish what I will call regular murders from more aggravated heinous murders."

Lawyer says an eye for an eye is never the answer

"(Brauchler) is one of the few DA's, anywhere, in the whole state of Colorado, who regularly seeks the death penalty," defense attorney David Lane said. "I am unalterably, completely, 100 percent opposed to the death penalty in all cases."

Lane thinks an eye for an eye should never be the answer.

"If you kill someone we are going to kill you means that we are stooping to exactly the same level that he stopped to. We are better than that," he said.

Mother and democratic lawmaker who supports the death penalty

For Democratic State Senator Rhonda Fields, the death penalty is personal.

"It's hard because every day I have a sense of emptiness. He was my only son. I taught him how to tie his shoes," said Fields. 

Her son, Javad Marshall-Fields, was murdered in 2005 along with his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe.

Both were about to start careers and a life together in Virginia. Before they could start that life, Marshall-Fields was set to testify about the night his friend was murdered.

"He will never call me mommy again. I will never see him marry," Fields said. "All of that was taken from me because someone decided to silence a witness."

The men responsible for killing her son are now two of Colorado's three inmates sitting on death row.

The third is Nathan Dunlap, convicted of killing four employees at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese in 1993.

Governor John Hickenlooper granted Dunlap temporary reprieve in 2013 and left his fate up to the next governor.

Fields' fight for justice is still far from over.

"After 16 years, I've come to understand that you can't really debate or change someone's decision as it relates to who's for or against the death penalty," she said.

To get more insight on where Sen. Fields stands on the death penalty, watch the full interview below: 


What's next in the Watts case

So where do you stand on this debate?

"At the end of the day, people's opinions on this are irrelevant to the pursuit of justice," Brauchler said.

For now, in the Watts case, the decision is still up to one person.

"(It) sits on the shoulders of Michael Rourke and he is the right person to make that decision," Brauchler said.

An accused killer who's future now hangs in the balance.