The History of the Death Penalty in Colorado

Published: Feb. 1, 2017

booksAbout the book: In The History of the Death Penalty in Colorado, noted death penalty scholar Michael Radelet chronicles the details of each capital punishment trial and execution that has taken place in Colorado since 1859. The book describes the debates and struggles that Coloradans have had over the use of the death penalty, placing the cases of the 103 men whose sentences were carried out and 100 more who were never executed into the context of a gradual worldwide trend away from this form of punishment.

For more than 150 years, Coloradans have been deeply divided about the death penalty, with regular questions about whether it should be expanded, restricted, or eliminated. It has twice been abolished, but both times state lawmakers reinstated the contentious punitive measure. Prison administrators have contributed to this debate, with some refusing to participate in executions and some lending their voices to abolition efforts. Colorado has also had a rich history of experimenting with execution methods, first hanging prisoners in public and then, starting in 1890, using the "twitch-up gallows" for four decades. In 1933, Colorado began using a gas chamber and eventually moved to lethal injection in the 1990s.

Based on meticulous archival research in official state archives, library records, and multimedia sources, The History of the Death Penalty in Colorado will inform the conversation on both sides of the issue anywhere the future of the death penalty is under debate.

About the author: Michael L. Radelet is professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder and faculty affiliate in CU’s Institute of Behavioral Science. For the past thirty-five years his research has focused on capital punishment, especially the problems of erroneous convictions, racial bias, and ethical issues faced by medical personnel who are involved in capital cases and executions. He has testified in approximately seventy-five death penalty cases, before committees of both the US Senate and House of Representatives, and in legislatures in seven states and has worked with scores of death row inmates as well as families of homicide victims. In 2011 he received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Purdue and the William Chambliss Award for Lifetime Achievements in Law and Society from the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and in 2012 he received one of three campus-wide awards for distinguished research from the Boulder Faculty Assembly.