Denver Jury Rejects Death Penalty in Prison Murder

April 2007

After three weeks of deliberation, a federal jury in Denver has rejected the death penalty for William Sablan, an inmate at Florence who it found killed his cellmate. The facts were ugly. As I wrote here

The defendants are cousins and maximum security inmates at Florence who allegedly killed their cellmate, cut out his body organs and held them up to guards to taunt them -- and to warn other inmates not to snitch them out. The aftermath of the murder was videotaped by guards.

It would have been the first federal death verdict in Colorado since Timothy McVeigh. Sablan's lawyers initially went for an insanity defense. Then, as Alan Pendergast of Westword wrote on the day of the guilty verdict,

Sablan's lawyers tried to shift the blame for the crime to William's cousin, Rudy Sablan, whose trial is still pending. Rudy was a notorious gang leader in their native Saipan, and William has been characterized as head-injured, possibly insane and "borderline retarded." But in his closing argument, defense attorney Nathan Chambers also tried to focus attention on how poorly the prison was run. How could such a crime take place, he asked, in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) -- supposedly the most restrictive cellblock in one of the highest security prisons in the country? ....here's the sticking point: to do what he did to [victim] Estrella while they were both in federal custody required a lot of help, from the same busted justice system that now wants him to take the fall alone. –

Another blow for Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department. And for the taxpayers who funded both the prosecution and the defense in this four month trial.

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