Colorado Lawmakers Vote to Repeal the Death Penalty

DENVER (CN) – The Colorado House of Representatives voted 38-27 to repeal the death penalty Wednesday, potentially becoming the 22nd state to remove the sentence from the books.

A spokesperson from Governor Jared Polis’ office confirmed that he will sign the bill. The repeal will take effect for all cases charged on or after July 1.

The American Civil Liberties Union lobbied on behalf of the measure for nine months.

The Colorado statehouse. (Chris Marshall/CNS)

“Whether they were victims’ family members, prosecutors, corrections officers, or just concerned citizens, Coloradans have spent months calling for an end to a broken and unjust system,” said Helen Griffiths, public policy associate at the ACLU of Colorado in a statement. “Across Colorado, our neighbors have made their voices heard: ‘Do not kill in my name.’ Thankfully, Colorado’s legislators were listening.”

According to a 2019 Gallup Poll, 60% of Americans prefer life imprisonment compared to 36% who support the death penalty.

Since its introduction on Jan. 14, the bill quickly passed through the Democratic-stacked statehouse, but not without emotional debate.

Proponents of the measure argued that the state should not be taking lives. Opponents argued that the death sentence was needed to give prosecutors leverage. Both sides made an argument for cost—either that the cost of appealing a death sentence is more expensive than life in prison or that the state shouldn’t bear the cost of supporting life imprisonment sentences.

The issue even split district attorneys statewide, with Denver District Attorney Beth McCann for the repeal and 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler opposed.

Brauchler is currently weighing whether or not to pursue the death penalty for Devon Erickson, who is suspected of killing a classmate at the STEM School Highlands Ranch last May and will go to trial in June.

The last person to be executed by the state was Gary Lee Davis in 1997, after he kidnapped, raped and killed a woman.

Three men currently sit on death row in Colorado including Nathan Dunlap, 44, who was sentenced to death in 1996 after he was convicted of killing eight people in an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese in 1993.

Robert Ray, 33, and Sir Mario Owens were both sentenced to death for killing witnesses in 2004 and 2005 in a separate murder case against Ray.

Although the governor has not received clemency requests, he has not indicated whether or not he would grant them, only that, “all clemency requests are weighty decisions that the governor will judge on their individual merits,” according to a spokesperson from his office.

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