We asked George Brauchler -- District Attorney for the 18th Judicial District and Republican candidate hoping to become Colorado's next Governor -- to talk specifically about criminal justice.
In part two of our exclusive interview, we asked Brauchler to explain what justice means to him and how he arrived at the decision to seek the death penalty in the James Holmes case.
What does “justice” mean to you, and how does that definition of justice prepare you to be governor?
This position I have as District Attorney, we have to acknowledge, is the most powerful position in government. There are only 22 people in the State of Colorado who can sign their name to a piece of paper and to put into motion the machinery of government to seek the death of another person. And that’s a role that I have and I take that seriously. Below that, there are all these decisions you make about whether to charge and if you charge, who, what charges? If I did my job recklessly or without due regard for the ultimate consequences, people’s lives can be ruined. Their names can be ruined. Their treasure can be taken from them. And even if, at the end of the day, a jury were to acquit them, it is little consolation to someone who was maliciously or wrongly prosecuted, and I take that very seriously. To me, justice isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, I think there’s a spectrum to justice. And the real trick for prosecutors is being able to discern what fits into justice for each unique case. I’ve made decisions on some of the biggest things in Colorado when it comes to criminal justice. Things that aren’t just about money, but are about life and death. I think that being District Attorney, if that were all I’d done, would prepare me well for making decisions the governor makes. But I’m more than that. I’m not just a father of four and a husband to an entrepreneur who started her business in our living room 17 years ago. I’m also a Colonel in our Army National Guard, and I have had the opportunity to lead troops here, there, and everywhere, including the time when I was the Chief of Military Justice for Northern Iraq. I know how to make decisions when it’s easy, and I know how to make decisions when it’s hard.
So, one of the cases that you are most known for is the James Holmes case.
Never heard of him. <sarcasm>
You ultimately arrived at the decision to seek the death penalty.
Can you tell me more about that decision-making process, because obviously that wasn’t an easy decision to reach.
It wasn’t easy. There was nothing about this case that was obvious to me. I think it’s one thing to be a candidate for office, or Joe Q. Public, and say, “I’m in favor of the death penalty.” I mean, I took it seriously that I was about to make a decision that might take another person’s life, ultimately. And I did not rely on my own understanding of the law or my own experience. At one point, I had convened all of the prosecutors in the State of Colorado who handled capital punishment cases before and invited them to the office to not only hear about this case but to listen to the pitch for mitigation from the public defender’s office. And then I got their input. I spoke with or met with as many of the 100 family members of the 12 deceased as I could to get their input. And as you can imagine, there was no consensus on what the right outcome was, and the reasoning or the rationale for why they wanted to pursue life or death were as divergent as you can imagine. And then I spoke with my father who is the most Christ-like person I’ve ever met and asked him his thoughts on this and how to approach this. I talked to my wife and asked her if this was something we could endure -- we could take on. No one had ever tried a case of this magnitude in Colorado at the local level, and certainly not with the scrutiny that modern media brings to it. And then, I even talked with our local priest and got his thoughts on it, knowing full well that the Roman Catholic Church is not big fans of the death penalty. And I prayed on it. And ultimately the conclusion I came to was this wasn’t Roman Catholic George Brauchler’s decision, this isn’t even personal George Brauchler’s decision … This is the elected District Attorney of a state that has a death penalty, and it is widely popular with Coloradans. And if it was going to apply to a case, by God, this was the right case to go seek it. This guy tried to kill hundreds, he was successful in murdering 12 and shooting and injuring 70 others, and it didn’t make sense to me to give the mass murderer the outcome he wanted. It didn’t make sense to me to treat this murder like I would a murder of one person against another. This was the ultimate crime and it required, in my opinion, the ultimate sentence.