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Foes: Death penalty attitudes changing in Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS (AP) - A decision not to seek the death penalty for accused killer Anthony Jimenez could signal changing attitudes toward the penalty in Colorado, opponents of capital punishment say.

Prosecutors don't necessarily agree, though they say new sentencing laws have changed the way they select jurors.

Michael Radelet, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder who studies death sentencing, said each death penalty case costs taxpayers more than $1 million.

"Even conservatives are coming around to the position of, `Look, we love the death penalty, but it's too expensive,"' said David Lane, a Denver defense attorney and death penalty expert.

Jury selection is under way in Cripple Creek for the second trial of Jimenez, 26, who is charged with first-degree murder in the rape and slaying of 16-year-old Jennifer Baker more than three years ago. His first trial ended in mistrial in June.

Prosecutors said a few days before jury selection began that they would not seek the death penalty.

"My sense is that prosecutors will seek the death penalty less often," Lane said. "They'll only gear it up for the most absolutely vile, horrible cases."

It's too soon to say what effect the return to jury sentencing will have on prosecutors' decisions, said Peter Weir, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council.

"It's either the right thing to seek the death penalty or it's not, and the process itself is not going to weigh significantly in the decision," he said.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney Jeanne Smith said prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty for Jimenez after talking with jurors from his first trial. She said they were unable to separate the issue of guilt from consideration of the death penalty.

Prosecutors around the state have sought the death penalty three times -- including Jimenez's first trial -- since jury sentencing resumed, but opted for life in prison.

One person, Gary Davis, has been executed in Colorado since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. He was executed in 1997 for the 1986 murder of Virginia May.

Radelet said Coloradans are reluctant to use the death penalty for several reasons. He said people are generally conservative and leery of giving the government the power to kill. Jurors also know the alternative to the death penalty is life in prison without parole, so they know convicted killers cannot be released.

Colorado also has a strong and well-funded public defender system, so the accused are better represented than in other states, Radelet said.

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