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Victims' families weigh death penalty, life imprisonment

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Jul 01 2014 08:04:04 PM CDT

It's a decision that two local families have faced after the murder of their loved ones.

PUEBLO, Colo. -

It can be an agonizing choice and one that even members of victims' families disagree on: whether a murder defendant should receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Dawn Wassel went against the wishes of many relatives this week when she supported the decision of prosecutors to seek life imprisonment instead of death for Jaacob Vanwinkle.  He pleaded guilty to murdering Wassel's daughter, Mandy Folsom, and Folsom's two children, at their Cañon City home in March. 

Vanwinkle and Folsom had previously dated.

Bob Autobee of Pueblo had a similar experience and said Wassel did the right thing.  His son, prison guard Eric Autobee, was killed by inmate Edward Montour in 2002.  An apology letter from Montour motivated Autobee to forgive Montour and not seek the death penalty.

"It's understandable to want death," Autobee said.  "But death is the easy way out.  (Vanwinkle's) not going to serve his punishment by being dead.  You dishonor your loved ones by pushing for the death penalty.  In the end you have to live with yourself.  I wouldn't want that on my conscience."

Autobee, who wears his son's name as an arm tattoo, said he worked in his garden often to deal with substance abuse, anger and depression after his son's murder.

Autobee said he has devoted his life to abolishing the death penalty.

"It just doesn't work," he said.  "It doesn't deter crime.  Some of the inmates on death row shouldn't be there.  The man who killed my son was in prison for a murder he didn't commit.  I'm not saying (Montour) shouldn't be punished, but he shouldn't be executed."

Autobee said he keeps in touch with Montour and plans to visit him regularly.

"He avoided the death penalty," Autobee said.  "Now he has to prove to me that he's earned (avoiding) it."

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