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Gov. Polis Abolishes Death Penalty, Commutes Death Row Inmates' Sentences To Life In Prison

Gov. Jared Polis talks to reporters at the state Capitol in 2019.
Scott Franz
Capitol Coverage
Gov. Jared Polis talks to reporters at the state Capitol in 2019.

Gov. Jared Polis has signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Colorado.

The governor also announced Monday he has commuted the sentences of three men currently on death row to life in prison without parole.

"Commutations are typically granted to reflect evidence of extraordinary change in the offender. That is not why I am commuting these sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole," Polis wrote in a statement. "Rather, the commutations of these despicable and guilty individuals are consistent with the abolition of the death penalty in the State of Colorado, and consistent with the recognition that the death penalty cannot be, and never has been, administered equitably in the State of Colorado."

While significant bills are usually signed in public ceremonies, the governor has been signing dozens of measures into law privately during the coronavirus pandemic.

The abolishment of the death penalty follows years of emotional debates at the state Capitol that put the spotlight on lawmakers' religious beliefs and their experiences of losing loved ones to gun violence and murder.

The repeal also passed despite opposition from some leading Democrats, including Sen. Rhonda Fields, whose son was killed by two of the three men on death row.

The state will stop using capital punishment for all crimes committed after July 1.

Supporters of the repeal say the death penalty is costly and has unfairly targeted minorities.

But opponents think it helps avoid costly trials and gives prosecutors more leverage when looking for murder victims.

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

More than 20 states have now repealed the death penalty.

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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