Prosecutors will seek death penalty for man accused of killing Adams County sheriff's deputy

Gov.-elect Polis pledged to abolish death penalty
Posted at 2:31 PM, Nov 28, 2018

BRIGHTON, Colo. – The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office filed notice this week that District Attorney Dave Young would seek the death penalty for Dreion Dearing in the January murder of Adams County Sheriff’s Deputy Heath Gumm.

Young filed the notice of intent in 17th Judicial District Court on Monday. In Colorado, prosecutors have to file notices that they will seek the death penalty before prosecution can proceed in the case after arraignment.

Dearing, 23, pleaded not guilty in September to the seven counts he faces in the case, which include first-degree murder of a peace officer and felony murder, among others.

He is accused of shooting and killing Gumm on Jan. 24 in an altercation near 86th and Edison St. in Thornton that followed Gumm and another deputy arriving on an assault call. The affidavit says officers believed Dearing was lying in wait for Gumm before he shot him. It took several hours to capture Dearing.

Young said early on in the case that he would be evaluating this year whether or not to seek the death penalty in the case. He told Denver7 Wednesday he'd spoken with Gumm's family before making the decision and said they "understand the process."

Young said he'd worked on three death penalty cases before.

Should Dearing be convicted and face the death penalty upon sentencing, he would be the first in recent years who would face such a sentence. There are only three people currently on Colorado’s death row, and just one person has been executed since Colorado reintroduced capital punishment in the 1970s.

Departing Gov. John Hickenlooper said the fate of one of the three inmates, Nathan Dunlap, would be left up to the next governor. Governor-elect Jared Polis, a Democrat, has pledged to abolish the death penalty in Colorado, saying that is ineffective in deterring crime, too costly to taxpayers and unfairly targets racial minorities. (All three of the state’s death row inmates are African-American.) Democrats now also control both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly.

Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke recently opted not to pursue the death penalty in the Chris Watts case and cited the governor and governor-elect’s positions on the death penalty as reasons why. Watts eventually agreed to a plea deal that spared him a death sentence, which was requested by the family of the victims in the case.

But Young on Wednesday said that the death penalty is on the books in Colorado and he felt the case met the criteria, brushing aside concerns about whether or not such a sentence would ever be carried out.

Dearing is next due in court on Dec. 10 after Wednesday’s hearing. His case was reassigned to Judge Mark D. Warner at Wednesday’s hearing, which was attended by the Adams County sheriff and several other deputies. Prosecutors will have 21 days to file a list of aggravating factors that went into the decision to pursue the death penalty and to disclose witnesses in the case.

This is a developing news story and will be updated.