DENVER – A group of Colorado lawmakers is seeking to repeal the death penalty, claiming that the sentence is inhumane and does little to deter crime.
But the effort to repeal the death penalty has also become one of racial injustice in Colorado, where lawmakers claim it has been disproportionately applied to African Americans.
“Facing the death penalty in Colorado depends more on the color of your skin and where you live than on the severity of your crime,” said Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, a sponsor of Senate Bill 182.
Death penalty sentences in Colorado are rare – the last inmate the state executed was Gary Lee Davis in 1997, the only execution since the late 1970s. Today, there are three men on death row in Colorado – all of whom are African American: Nathan Dunlap, Mario Owens and Robert Ray. All three men would remain on death row if the Legislature approves the repeal, which affects charges filed on or after July 1.
In 2013, former Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered a reprieve for Dunlap, who was sentenced to death in 1996 and was scheduled for execution in 2013. But Hickenlooper did not offer Dunlap clemency, leaving his fate to be decided by a future governor.
While seeking the death penalty is rare, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler still supports it, according to an opinion he wrote in The Denver Post. A repeal, he added, is not an issue best addressed by lawmakers.
“The Legislature should refer repeal to the ballot and trust Coloradans to decide whether to treat all murderers the same or to maintain a tool to distinguish the worst of the worst,” he wrote.
The bill will get its first hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee Wednesday afternoon.