DENVER – Senate Democrats were looking to have Colorado join 19 other states that have eliminated the death penalty, but the measure died on a 3-2 party-line vote late Wednesday night.
Senate Bill 95, which would have repealed the death penalty as the maximum sentence for Class 1 felonies in Colorado, was heard and killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, made a point of allotting two 45-minute blocks of testimony for both proponents and opponents to keep the hearing from going too late. Public comments, however, went well beyond 90 minutes, and the final vote was taken just after 8:30 p.m.
Proponents for the bill argued against the morality of the death penalty, and they cited the increased court fees that were well beyond those for a criminal sentenced to life in prison because of the drawn-out appeals process.
Opponents argued there were cases in which the crime was so appalling that this sentence was justified, and the state Legislature should not take away this option from district attorneys and judges.
Before the hearing, Senate Minority Leader Democrat Lucía Guzmán, sponsor of the bill, said difficulties acquiring the needed medication to execute criminals and the potential of executing someone who was wrongfully convicted were reasons she sponsored the measure. However, she said she was more concerned with the inequity of the judiciary system.
“It depends sometimes on what jurisdiction you’re from, where the crime happened,” she said. “If the crime happened in Denver, the DA said she’s not going to bring any death penalties. If it happens somewhere else, you could get the death penalty for the crime.”
Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said before the hearing that he was waiting until he hears public testimony, but generally he favors allowing local judges to decide when the death penalty is appropriate, and he voted with other Republicans to maintain Capital punishment. “It’s a tough situation, but I think there are situations where the crime is so heinous that it is justifiable, and I trust the jury and the judges to make that decision of when that threshold is crossed,” Coram said.
“By having life without parole, someone is punished to the highest degree possible without the state becoming an executioner, which I think places us in a weaker position in terms of trying to find and build communities of nonviolence,” Guzmán said.
Coram disagreed that it is a preferable option in all cases.
“We’ve got guys that have been on death row for years and years and years, and to me, that’s somewhat cruel punishment, that you know you have an expiration date; you just don’t know when it is,” he said.
The death penalty was last enforced in Colorado in 1997 when Gary Lee Davis, a convicted murderer and rapist, was executed by lethal injection.
Guzmán said her own personal experience after her father was killed by a violent criminal guided her to introduce SB 95.
“I’m representing my constituency as well as my own personal experience in terms of what I think would be the best way for us to move forward,” she said.