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Francisco Kjolseth, pool
Floyd Eugene Maestas, left, speaks with defense attorney Michael Sikora on Thursday. A jury today sentenced Maestas to death for the murder of a 72-year-old woman.

The jury in the capital murder case of Floyd Eugene Maestas returned a verdict of death after deliberating less than four hours.

Made up of a majority of women, the jury began deliberations at 10:20 a.m. today to decide the fate of Maestas, convicted of murdering 72-year-old Donna Lou Bott.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty against Maestas for the 2004 brutal slaying of Bott, while defense attorneys asked jurors to return a sentence of life without parole.

Maestas was found guilty of the charge last week after a trial with deliberations that three hours.

Today in court, the jury first heard from Maestas himself, who thanked them for listening to his case.

"My attorneys want to put on evidence that is kind of important, but I didn't want my family to be involved in this," Maestas said, referring to the judge's decision Thursday to allow Maestas to exclude evidence which could have swayed to the jury to refrain from imposing the death penalty.

That mitigating evidence would have included testimony about his chaotic family life as a child, physical and sexual abuse that Maestas suffered, substance abuse and his low IQ, according to defense attorneys.

Maestas told the jury, "I accept your verdict. I feel bad about Miss Bott, I feel bad about (another victim injured that night) I feel bad about everybody."

He said that during the time he's been in jail since his arrest for this crime, he has had a lot of time to study the Bible.

"In the beginning I said I wasn't guilty. I didn't kill Miss Bott. I hope you understand because I didn't. "

Prosecutor Kent Morgan outlined Maestas' 30-year criminal history and discussed in detail the depraved violence inflicted on Bott when she was murdered.

"The defendant Floyd Maestas earned the sentence of death, he said. "The defendant pounced on a 72-year-old woman in the dark. He stomped her, choked her, stabbed in the face and broke her heart," Morgan said, referring to the ruptured aorta in the victim's chest.

Morgan further said that testimony from prison officials "shows the defendant can do nothing but commit crimes while he is out of prison."

Morgan also underscored the violence of Maestas' criminal history and pointed to his many parole violations that were often associated with crimes in which he entered into plea bargains that made them appear less malicious.

"He's the one who made the choices. He's the one who committed the crimes. If he just wanted to go back to prison and live, have a drink."

The prosecutor recalled testimony from relatives of the murder victim — Bott's granddaughter and niece — who had to clean the blood from Bott's home.

"I think it is clear that Donna Bott's life counts for something," Morgan said. "It's up to you to decide whether her death counts for something."

Morgan said both Maestas and his ex-wife have stated in the courtroom that Maestas never admitted responsibility for anything.

"Mercy is not appropriate for someone who has made a career out of victimizing the most vulnerable — elderly women."

In contrast, defense attorney Denise Porter said she stood in awe of the responsibility the jury faces — mainly holding someone's life in its hands.

She said that as a society we don't believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and that is not what the law requires. She said rapists are not punished by being raped and arsonists can be punished without anyone setting a fire.

She urged the jury to opt for life in prison without parole for Maestas and told them that in order to judge an individual, one must attempt to see the humanity within him and look at the whole person, not simply the crime.

"You are intelligent, compassionate, caring people. You can do this," Porter said. "I am confident you will use your heads and your hearts and you will try to do the right thing."

She offered three suggestions for the formidable task ahead of them. First, she pointed out that punishment for people for the same offense can vary because of their varied backgrounds. Next, she told them that judgment is not based on a person's worst action.

"Reflect on the worst thing that you have ever done," Porter said. "Would you want the decision of whether you live or die to be judged by that one moment?"

Porter hastened to add that she was not comparing the jurors to Maestas, but said, "one day is not what makes up a human being."

With her third piece of advice — to search for the humanity in Maestas — Porter implored the jury that if they were clouded by their perception of the crime to try harder.

"Look to that little boy sitting in the Mexican Flats in Durango, Colo."

Porter said the jurors would not let their own children spend an hour there in the impoverished and crime-ridden environment.

Maestas, she said, grew up there until he moved to another house where he witnessed the violent murder of his older sister.

She also said that he had long-documented intervals of time in prison with virtually no disciplinary behavior.

As for jurors who might worry about being the only one to opt for prison, she asked them to rely on their own personal, moral judgment.

"What Mr. Morgan has asked you to do is kill another human being," Porter said. "No one ever deserves mercy. It is something we give freely from our hearts."

She said there is a time to stop violence and stop suffering and she said she was begging them to be the person who says, "I refuse," to perpetuate the violence by ordering the execution of Maestas.

"Be the person who chooses life."

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com