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Colorado Lawmakers Pass Bill Abolishing The Death Penalty

Lawmakers in the Colorado House of Representatives debate a bill to repeal the death penalty on Wednesday.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
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Lawmakers in the Colorado House of Representatives debate a bill to repeal the death penalty on Wednesday.

The Colorado legislature has passed a bill to repeal the death penalty. The decision comes after several days of emotional debates that put the spotlight on lawmakers' religious beliefs and their experiences of losing loved ones to gun violence and murder.

The final approval on Wednesday came despite opposition from some leading Democrats, including Sen. Rhonda Fields, whose son was killed by two of the three men currently on Colorado's death row.

In the House, the bill was also opposed by Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.

Sullivan showed crime scene photos from the mass shooting during a nearly 12-hour long debate earlier this week.

But new support from three Republican lawmakers in the Senate ultimately allowed it to pass after a similar bill failed last year.

Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, said he opposes capital punishment because of his Catholic faith.

And Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, said it isn't a power the state should have.

"I don't support the state having the power over life and death under any circumstance," he said.

Gov. Jared Polis said he will sign the bill. He has called the death penalty "archaic."

But he has not announced whether he will commute the sentences of the three men still on death row to life in prison, or allow their sentences to stand.

Other Democrats who pursued the repeal said it has not been fairly administered and is costly to taxpayers.

"I think we have a broken system and I'm going to do what I can today to help fix it," said House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, before the House voted 38-27 to pass it on final reading.

Most Republican lawmakers defended the death penalty, saying it helps prosecutors secure plea deals, avoid trials and find murder victims that have been hidden.

Their efforts to put the question to voters failed.

Colorado has not executed a prisoner since 1997, when Gary Lee Davis was put to death after being convicted of rape and murder.

Copyright 2020 KUNC

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.
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