The Final Execution Carried Out by Colorado

When Colorado became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty on March 23, 2020, it hadn’t conducted an execution in over two decades. The final execution Colorado carried out was on Oct. 13, 1997.

Gary Lee Davis was sentenced to death in 1987 for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 34-year-old Virginia May in Byers, Colorado. His execution was both the first and last use of lethal injection in Colorado. After a decade in prison, the sentence was carried out at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City, Colorado. 

At Davis’ trial, he confessed to the murder, and his sentence came down exactly a year after the murder of May. Appeals of his death sentence were upheld by the Colorado state courts in 1990 and by the federal courts in 1995. 

According to an Associated Press article published after Davis’ execution, “his attorneys and family members portrayed the death row Davis as a changed man, no longer the person who followed years of heavy drinking and increasingly serious crimes with the slaying of the 33-year-old Virginia ‘Ginny’ May.” 

Despite these accounts, and his own personal belief that Davis was a changed man, former Gov. Roy Romer said the change wasn’t enough to commute the death sentence, according to the article. 

On the day of his execution, according to the article, “Davis met with family members, including one of his three former wives and four of his children.” His final meal consisted of chocolate and vanilla ice cream. 

Davis’ execution was also the only one carried out between the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1974 and the state ban in 2020. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court case Furman v. Georgia effectively banned capital punishment nationwide. The high court reversed this decision four years later in Gregg v. Georgia.

Capital punishment in Colorado was reinstated for certain class 1 felonies following a ballot measure in 1974 that passed with 61% in favor of reinstatement. 

When capital punishment was banned in 2020, three people were awaiting execution. Their sentences were commuted to life in prison by Gov. Jared Polis on the same day he signed the ban into law.

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