Judge bars lottery to settle execution seating controversy
COLORADO–A state District Court judge in Denver ended a squabble among two major newspapers in mid-September by barring a lottery that would have re-selected media witnesses to an October execution.
Judge Federico Alvarez granted The Denver Post’s motion to permanently enjoin the drawing, which would have chosen either The Post, The Rocky Mountain News, or the Colorado Springs Gazette to witness the execution of Gary Davis.
The Post argued that a drawing would be unfair, considering that the paper was granted a seat to the execution in 1990, when Davis was originally scheduled to die for a 1986 murder.
The lottery was proposed by Ari Zavaras, director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, in response to recent complaints by the News that the 1990 media selection process was tainted.
The original selection, overseen by then-director Frank Gunter, provided that five of the execution chamber’s 15 seats be reserved for the press. Gunter asked the Colorado Press Association to designate The Associated Press, one major daily newspaper and one small daily newspaper to cover the event. The Colorado Broadcasters Association was asked to pick a radio station and a television station.
The CPA chose The Post and the Canon City Daily Record. Davis appealed shortly thereafter, and the final roadblock for the execution was not cleared until mid-October, when Gov. Roy Romer denied Davis’ final appeal for clemency. The execution is scheduled for the week of Oct. 11.
The News’ allegation of a tainted selection process is based on a claim that the paper was discriminated against by the corrections department, according to the Associated Press.
In his opinion, Alvarez said there was no substantial evidence of any discrimination, and held that The News’ complaint “approximately six and one-half years later is untimely.”
Alvarez also found that holding a seat for an execution is not a property right. The Post had argued that the seat was “a property interest that shouldn’t be taken away … without just compensation,” the AP reported. (Denver Post Corp. v. Zavaras; Media Counsel: Don Bain, Denver)