Prosecution drops death penalty in Adams County police-shooting case

District Attorney Dave Young, a longtime proponent of capital punishment, accuses Gov. Jared Polis of meddling in the legal system.

Photo of the Adams County Justice Center, taken Friday, Mar. 13, 2020.
Photo of the Adams County Justice Center, taken Friday, Mar. 13, 2020. (Photo credit: Susan Greene)

Prosecutors have backed off seeking a death sentence against the man accused of killing Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm in January 2018. 

In a motion filed this afternoon, 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young withdrew capital punishment as a possible sentence for Dreion Dearing, whose 1st degree murder trial began earlier this month and has been temporarily postponed because of risks presented by the coronavirus. Young instead is seeking a sentence of life without parole for Dearing, 24.

Dreion Dearing and his family members (picture included in a court motion)
Dreion Dearing and his family members (picture included in a court motion)

Young cited Gov. Jared Polis’s signing last week of a bill to repeal the death penalty in Colorado and subsequent move commuting the death sentences Colorado’s three death-row inmates: Nathan Dunlap, Sir Mario Owens, and Robert Ray. That repeal law applies only to offenses occurring July 1st of this year forward. Still, Polis’s comment that “the death penalty cannot be, and never has been, administered equitably in the State of Colorado,” Young wrote, “deliberately forecasts the future of any death penalty sentence that might occur during his term.” 

Young – a longtime proponent of the death penalty – used his motion as an opportunity to slam the governor for meddling in the legal system.

“Despite what a jury decision is and/or the legal appellate process that would ordinarily follow, he will decide the same outcome for all cases: life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Consequently, regardless of the evidence supporting a reasonable likelihood of obtaining a death sentence from a jury of twelve in this case, Governor Polis has dictated the final sentence,” he wrote. “It is impossible for the People to convince a thirteenth juror who does not assess the evidence and has a predisposed opinion as to what the outcome should be.”

“The People cannot overcome Governor Polis’s stated intent to forego any death sentence with a stroke of his pen,” he continued. 

Young wrote that pursuing a death sentence in this case would prolong the victimization of Deputy Gumm’s family and friends because “…the People have no reasonable likelihood of overcoming the Governor’s opinion on the death penalty.” He added that the family is  “extremely frustrated that the People cannot continue to seek the appropriate maximum sentence available under the law applicable to this case.”

Adams County Deputy Heath Dumm (picture included in a court motion)
Adams County Deputy Heath Dumm (picture included in a court motion)

On Jan. 24, 2018, Dumm and other officers responded to a report of an assault on Dawson Street in Thornton and began chasing Dearing – who allegedly met the assailant’s description – on foot. Dearing allegedly drew a handgun and opened fire, hitting Gumm in the chest. Gumm, 32, died shortly after at Denver Health Medical Center. 

Dearing’s lawyers have not been commenting on the case. 

“The facts and circumstances never warranted death. Evidently race is what pushed them to pursue death,”  Faisal Salahuddin, a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer in Denver who is not involved in the case, says of Dearing, who – like Dunlap, Owens and Ray – is black.

“Blaming Polis for their own political blunders is just what politicians do, I guess.”

A recovering newspaper journalist, Susan reported for papers in California and Nevada before her 13 years as a political reporter, national reporter and metro columnist at The Denver Post. “Trashing the Truth,” a series she reported with Miles Moffeit, helped exonerate five men, prompted reforms on evidence preservation and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism. Her 2012 project, “The Gray Box,” exposed the effects of long-term solitary confinement. The ACLU honored her in 2017 for her years of civil rights coverage, and the Society of Professional Journalists honored her in April with its First Amendment Award. Susan and her two boys live with a puppy named Hymie whom they’re pretty sure is the messiah.

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