Prosecutors are considering whether to seek the death penalty against 3 suspects in a Douglas County murder-for-hire plot after the 3 men pleaded not guilty to 1st-degree murder charges Friday.
The man accused of carrying out the murder plot, 26-year-old Josiah Sher, already faces the death penalty for his alleged role in the killing of Amara Wells and her brother-in-law Bob Rafferty in Feb. 2011.
The district attorney's office indicated it will make the decision on seeking the death penalty against the 3 suspected co-conspirators within 60 days.
“The decision to seek the death penalty in any case is probably the most difficult decision that a prosecutor has to make," said Karen Steinhauser, a University of Denver law professor and former Denver assistant district attorney.
The Douglas County double-murder is considered especially heinous.
Sher, a former Army sergeant, allegedly carried out the brutal killings for $20,000 at the request of Wells' estranged husband Christopher Wells. The couple was reportedly going through a bitter divorce at the time.
The bodies of Amara Wells and Bob Rafferty were found shot, stabbed and burned inside Rafferty's home in Keene Ranch.
Four men are accused of orchestrating the murder-for-hire plot.
Prosecutors say Christopher Wells hired Sher and 2 former co-workers to kill his wife Amara, his sister Tammy Rafferty and her husband Bob Rafferty. Wells' sister Tammy wasn't at the home the night of the murders.
Micah Woody allegedly was in charge of hiring Sher as the group’s killer, buying Sher a gun and giving him instructions on when and where to carry out the murders.
Matt Plake is accused of helping Sher plan the crimes and driving him to the Keene Ranch home. Plake allegedly helped dispose of evidence, including guns and bloody clothing.
"The prosecutor has to decide whether to seek the death penalty against people who didn't actually pull the trigger," said Steinhauser.
Jurors would be asked to consider the brutality of the crimes and each man's level of participation.
“What was their involvement, how much involvement did they have (and) what is their background," Steinhauser pointed out.
Prosecutors would also be raising the burden for jurors to consider all the facts of the case.
"To I don't think just beyond reasonable doubt but really beyond all possible doubt," the veteran prosecutor said.
That’s one reason the death penalty is rarely sought in Colorado.
Prosecutors are likely to decide whether to seek the death penalty before Wells' next court appearance on April 10. Woody and Plake are due back in court on April 20.
(source: KDVR News)