On October 18, 2002, Bob and Lola Autobee lost their son Eric. He was 23 years old and worked as a corrections officer for the Colorado Department of Corrections. Eric was murdered by an inmate while in plain view of a control station that was unstaffed. Bob, a former corrections officer himself, originally wanted the death penalty for his son’s killer. Now, more than a decade later, he has changed his mind, but the lead prosecutor on the case, George Brauchler, is trying to keep Bob and his wife Lola from sharing their views during the sentencing hearing.
In his February 2013 Op Ed Bob publically came out against the death penalty. He wrote:
“No one would ever call me soft on crime. For nearly all of my life, I supported the death penalty…That was the old me, before I learned and experienced how the system really doesn’t work. It has been a nightmare. Given what I know now, I can no longer support Colorado’s broken death penalty system…More than anything we don’t want any other parents to ever have to bury their child. By the time we are thinking about punishing, it’s too late. What we need is effective prevention.”
Bob shared his personal struggle with how he came to oppose the death penalty:
“I cried every day. I was in this downward spiral. It cost me my faith. I couldn’t even pray anymore, and I’d grown up in the church.” As a person of faith, he returned to the bible, and his renewed faith in God has led him to forgive his son’s killer and to oppose his death sentence. Bob now has chosen to direct his energy toward seeking repeal of the death penalty. In 2013, Bob testified before the Colorado legislature, “My son’s life was about love and life … so please don’t saddle my son’s name with the death penalty… I am begging our elected officials to do away with our broken death penalty system.”
Because the Autobee family's beliefs conflict with the prosecution’s agenda, they feel like they have been relegated to second-class victims—ones whose voices are being silenced in the criminal justice process.
Stand with Bob and Lola Autobee and victims’ family members across the country in demanding that all victims be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their views on the death penalty!
The Autobees are not the first family to oppose the death penalty for their loved one’s murderer, and remaining silent about the discrimination and marginalization that the Autobees are facing in Colorado makes us all complicit in a system of justice that values some victims more than others.
A family member’s willingness to cooperate (or not) with the prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty should not influence his/her equal access to protection of victims’ rights and access to victims’ services.
I am asking you to issue a statement from the Colorado’s District Attorney’s Council that affirms the following principles:
There is no right or wrong way for victims to feel about the death penalty—all victims are entitled to respect and dignity;
Opposition to the death penalty is an equally valid position for a victim’s family to have;
There should not be two classes of victims: victims who oppose the death penalty should not be treated as second-class victims;
All federal and state constitutional rights to all victims of crime should be guaranteed on an equal basis, and notwithstanding any provisions of laws on capital punishment, the right not to be discriminated against or have their rights as a victim denied, diminished, expanded or enhanced on the basis of the victims support for, opposition to, or neutrality on the death penalty.
I also urge you to convene a meeting with Bob Autobee and other murder victims’ family members interested in working with the Colorado District Attorney’s Council to develop a protocol to be shared with all district attorneys’ offices in the state outlining best practices for ensuring that all victims are treated with respect and dignity regardless of their position on the death penalty.