CASTLE ROCK – A convicted murderer facing the death penalty for killing a Colorado corrections officer sat quietly in a packed Douglas County courtroom Wednesday, as his defense attorney bluntly told jurors she intended to put the Colorado criminal justice system on trial as well.
"We will prove to you the criminal justice system completely and utterly failed [Edward Montour-," said defense attorney Kathryn Stimson during opening statements of a trial that's expected to last upwards of two months.
There is little doubt Montour used a four-foot, heavy-duty soup ladle to twice bash in the head of Limon Correctional Facility officer Eric Autobee on the morning of October 18, 2002. But his defense attorneys say they have strong evidence to suggest Montour never should have been in prison to begin with.
In 1998, four years before the Autobee killing, jurors in El Paso County convicted Montour of murdering his 11-week old daughter, Taylor Montour, effectively sending him to prison for the rest of his life. Last week, after months of research on the part of Montour's defense, the El Paso County Coroner's Office agreed to change the official cause of Taylor's death from "homicide" to "undetermined."
Stimson repeatedly reminded jurors Wednesday of the questions now surrounding the original conviction. Montour's defense plans to introduce evidence that Taylor Montour died not as a result of abuse but due to brittle-bone disease. "[Montour] was wrongfully convicted and painted as a monster – the lowest of the low – a baby killer," said Stimson.
Montour has repeatedly denied his role in the death of his daughter. Once he was sent to Limon after his conviction, Montour's defense believes an ongoing and reoccurring bipolar disease festered and eventually got worse. "Being wrongfully convicted of killing your baby makes that mental illness come back alive," said Stimson.
Montour has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the Autobee killing. Autobee's father, Bob Autobee, attended opening statements. Bob Autobee has become a vocal critic of the prosecution's decision to go for the death penalty in the case and says he has forgiven Montour for the death of his son.
Chief Deputy District Attorney John Topolnicki said nothing about the possible wrongful conviction during his opening statements. Instead, he told jurors that on eight separate occasions during the initial investigation into the Autobee death Montour confessed to murdering the corrections officer.
Topolnicki told the jury Montour intentionally and deliberately decided to kill Autobee in the kitchen using a ladle because it "was available."
Once Montour killed Autobee, Topolnicki said he calmly walked out of the kitchen and told another corrections officer, "I just put Autobee down in the kitchen. Do you want to handcuff me now or later?"
Topolnicki said the officer then went into the kitchen to see if Montour's story was indeed true. Once returned from the kitchen, the officer reported seeing Montour calmly drinking a Mr. Pibb.