Senior Judge Christopher Munch’s ruling this week, upholding the death-penalty conviction of Sir Mario Owens in a 2005 double homicide, was remarkable not so much for its conclusions as for its sheer bulk. Weighing in at close to 1,400 pages, it’s the War and Peace of judicial reasoning — and a good indication of how complex the case has become through more than a decade of legal maneuvering, a labyrinthine journey to Colorado’s lethal-injection gurney that’s far from over.
In reaching his decision that Owens received a fair trial, Munch had to pore over 28,000 pages of trial records and a post-conviction record that is just as long, as well as thousands of exhibits in the case. He also had to consider a troubling series of prosecution decisions that have provided anti-death-penalty defense attorneys with considerable fodder in the case.
After separate trials, Owens and co-defendant Robert Ray were both sentenced to death for the murder of Javad Marshall-Fields, who had been expected to testify against the two men in another homicide investigation. (Owens also received the death penalty for the murder of Marshall-Fields’s fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, while Ray got life without parole for her death.) Their prosecution, one of several death-penalty cases pursued by former 18th Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers, was conducted in an atmosphere of exceptionally stringent security, with attorneys subject to gag orders, many court motions filed under seal, witness names purged from documents, and transcripts denied to news organizations — all ostensibly to protect witnesses from possible intimidation and reprisals. Although Arapahoe County District Judge Gerald…
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