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Colorado Capital Punishment News
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  1. #1
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    Colorado Capital Punishment News

    A Colorado lawmaker has introduced a bill that would make the death penalty available for anyone convicted of a violent sexual assault on a child.

    Sen. Steve Ward (R-Littleton) says prosecutors need the tool to punish those who commit the worst of crimes against children younger than 12.

    "It puts it into a new class of crimes and actually an important one," said Ward.

    Ward is proposing capital punishment as an option on the first offense of violent sexual assault on a child under 12, but he says prosecutors may not use it and choose instead to apply it to repeat offenders.

    "What Senate Bill 195 does is make this penalty available as a tool to the prosecutors to do their work," said Ward. "I think the death penalty is important to have available to prosecutors when you have crimes as heinous as these crimes can be."

    Opponents say that in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not put people to death for rape cases because it was unconstitutional. They found it fell under the 8th Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.

    "The idea behind capital punishment is to execute those that commit the most heinous and atrocious murders, whether that's stabbing, shooting, bombs, whatever," said Doug Wilson, a public defender for Colorado. "It's not specifically set up - it never has been set up - for execution in cases where people are not killed. (That's) not saying it's not traumatic to the children, because it is, (and that's) not saying those folks should necessarily get out of prison if they're convicted."

    Ward believes the Supreme Court's ruling leaves room for his type of legislation.

    "They said in that decision that it applies to the rape of adults. They held the door open for the rape of children," he said.

    Ward says even though he has bipartisan support for the bill, it may still take several years for legislation of this magnitude to push through the state legislature.

    "I harbor few illusions that this is going to pass on its first attempt," said Ward.

    The bill will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee in April.

    Four states already permit capital punishment for repeat child rapists: South Carolina, Oklahoma, Montana and Texas. However, no one has been sentenced to death under those laws. Louisiana has a similar statute and two people have been sentenced to death there. One is currently appealing the decision to the Supreme Court and his arguments will be heard in April.

    "There have been briefs filed in the Louisiana case in front of the Supreme Court by victims' groups and I've read those and they have a consistent theme," said Wilson.

    Wilson says the briefs argue that once the crimes are discovered, it will keep the child from telling the police because they don't want a relative to face execution.

    "(The briefs) consistently say this not only will not help the situation, this will not deter the offenses. It will actually chill the child's reporting to authorities so we will discover less of the pedophiles out there."

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    A Senate committee approved a proposal on Monday that would allow the state to execute people convicted of sexually assaulting children under 12 years old.

    The bill applies to perpetrators who threaten to retaliate against their victims, and who are convicted of a second assault on a child.

    Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said the death penalty would be a deterrent to predators who have previously been convicted of sexual assault on a child.

    "If it happens, it won't happen again," Penry told the committee.

    Prosecutors would have to submit DNA evidence to pursue the death penalty. If there is no DNA, the maximum penalty would be life in prison.

    Cathryn Hazouri, executive director of the ACLU in Colorado, said she believes the bill is unconstitutional because a person convicted using DNA could face the death penalty, while another predator who did not leave DNA could avoid it.

    "The same crime depends on one piece of evidence," she told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    The bill (Senate Bill 195) sponsored by Sen. Steve Ward, R-Littleton, now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it faces a tough, uphill battle because of a high price tag for defending and prosecuting death penalty cases.

    Doug Wilson, the state's chief public defender, said only five states - Montana, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Louisiana - have similar laws on the books. He said the Louisiana law is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court and could be decided later this year.

    He said children would be less likely to report a sexual assault if they thought a family friend or a parent could be executed.

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    Colorado lawmakers have rejected a bill that would have allowed the execution of people who sexually assault children younger than age 13.

    The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 6-4 Friday against the Senate Bill 195, which would have cost about $616,000 next year for trials, appeals, public defenders and prison costs.

    Democratic Sen. Moe Keller of Wheat Ridge said social workers are worried that family members who rape children could intimidate their victims by saying the abuser would be killed if the victim tells.

    The sponsor, Republican Sen. Steve Ward of Littleton, says children are already under pressure not to report sex assaults. He says prosecutors can take into account whether a family wants to seek the death penalty.

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    Death Penalty Repeal Fails in Colorado

    An effort to repeal Colorado’s death penalty law stumbled Monday in the State Senate after 2 hours of sometimes anguished and angry debate, leaving the bill in limbo and supporters scrambling to find votes as the end of the session looms this week.

    The Colorado House voted in support of repeal, by a single vote majority, last month.

    In their debate, lawmakers focused on questions of deterrence, certainty or doubt in the age of genetic evidence, and, far from least in the mix, money in a time of shrinking government resources.

    As proposed, the bill would have redirected about $1 million now devoted to death penalty costs to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for investigating unsolved crimes known as cold cases. But the amendment that passed on a voice vote Monday pledged new money for cold cases — popular with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — but made no mention of the death penalty. Democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly.

    "They got what they wanted, and we got left behind," said Bradley A. Wood, the director of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry — Colorado, which supported repeal.

    Questions of justice resonated from both sides.

    Senator Morgan Carroll, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said more money for cold-case work would mean more killers brought to justice. "Justice at least means: find the person who did it," Ms. Carroll said.

    She also said the costs of making a mistake when imposing the ultimate sanction were too high. "In a democracy," she said, "the decisions of the state come with blood on all of our hands in the event that we are wrong."

    Senator Shawn Mitchell, a Republican, responded that life was imperfect and that some heinous crime must be set apart with greater sanctions, including the death penalty. "It is the closest we can come to justice," Mr. Mitchell said. "Not complete justice, it's just the closest we can get."

    Contrary to the myths and legends of rough justice, most of the West — with the major exception of California — did not race back to imposing the death penalty after 1976, when the United States Supreme Court allowed states to resume the practice.

    Colorado, Montana and Wyoming each have only two inmates on death row, as did New Mexico when it repealed its death penalty law in March, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based research group that opposes capital punishment. Colorado has executed only one person since 1976.

    The Colorado repeal bill was very much in keeping with what has become a national debate about the financial costs of the death penalty, especially as the recession hits state budgets hard.

    For example, the Republican sponsor of a death penalty repeal proposal in Kansas specifically cited cost-benefit analysis in tough times as a reason for rethinking capital punishment. The bill cleared a legislative committee and was sent back for more study, ending its chances of passage this year.

    Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat, also mentioned cost as part of his reason for signing a repeal measure.


    Colorado's death penalty lives on

    Colorado's death penalty may yet live on and the state could also spend more to investigate cold cases under amendments made in the Senate to one of this year's most controversial pieces of legislation.

    House Bill 1274, as approved by the House, would have repealed the death penalty as a sentencing option and used the money saved by not prosecuting and appealing such cases — estimated to be at least $1 million a year — to fund the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's cold-case unit.

    But a new version of the bill, drafted today just 15 minutes before the Senate was slated to vote on the original version, would charge people convicted of crimes a $2.50 fee and give that cash to local jurisdictions to pay detectives overtime to work unsolved homicides. The death penalty would remain in place. It passed with the support of 5 Democrats and the Republican caucus.

    The drastic change must still survive a potential challenge later tonight, a 3rd reading by the Senate and win approval from the House.

    Democrat Sen. Morgan Carroll, sponsor of the original version, called the move "an ambush."

    "Some people are looking for ways to avoid voting on the core issue," said Carroll, who spoke passionately about ending the death penalty. "This is a totally different bill that's not had a public hearing. It's gamesmanship that makes a mess of public policy."

    Democrat Sen. John Morse, who upended Carroll's bill with his amendment, argued that repealing the death penalty is a controversial move that could have stood in the way of funding cold case resolutions. His version also directs funds to local jurisdictions rather than a statewide task force.

    "The more local we can get the better off we will be in solving these cases," said Morse, who believes the fee will generate about $1 million a year.

    (Source: The Denver Post)

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    Colo. Supreme Court: No Two-Year Limit In Death Penalty Appeals

    Colorado law does not impose a strict two-year limit on death penalty appeals, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday.

    Counsel for Sir Mario Owens, who was convicted of two counts of murder in 2008 and sentenced to death, challenged the statutory scheme for reviewing death penalty cases.

    Before the sentence was handed down, Owens’ lawyers argued that it was unconstitutional for state law to impose a two-year time limit on the completion of all proceedings for post-conviction review, the certification of the record, and all appellate briefing. They also argued that the law unconstitutionally prohibited extensions of any kind beyond the two-year limit.

    Arapahoe County District Judge Gerald Rafferty ruled that the two-year limit was valid, but he found the prohibition on time extensions unconstitutionally arbitrary and capricious.

    The Colorado Supreme Court unanimously reversed Rafferty’s ruling. The trial court misconstrued statute as imposing an absolute two-year limit for appeals, wrote Justice Nathan Coats.

    Because the statute “implements the legislature’s direction by imposing a series of highly specific time limits, which are designed to meet the two-year goal when, but only when, that can be accomplished without violating the defendant’s constitutional rights or the legislature’s other expressly articulated goals, no absolute two-year time limit exists in either statute or rule.”

    Opinion here


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    Colorado death penalty law unconstitutional, study contends

    Colorado prosecutors could seek the death penalty in the vast majority of first-degree murder cases in the state but instead pursue it so infrequently that the state's capital-punishment system is unconstitutionally arbitrary, three law professors argue in a new study.

    The conclusion could be earth-shaking for the Colorado criminal-justice system, at a time when prosecutors in Arapahoe County are deciding whether to pursue the death penalty against Aurora shooting suspect James Eagan Holmes. It could have more direct implications in the looming death-penalty sentencing hearing of Edward Montour — whose defense team initiated the study and included it in a motion.

    "This is a groundbreaking study," said David Lane, one of Montour's defense attorneys.

    Colorado law says a person must be convicted of first-degree murder, the most serious murder charge, and also meet an extra aggravating factor to be eligible for a death sentence. To conduct the study, the professors — in a first-of-its-kind effort in Colorado — assembled a list of all homicide cases between 1999 and 2010, then identified which of those cases were first-degree murder cases.

    The study finds that 92 percent of the state's 544 first-degree murder cases in that time span contained at least one of the aggravating factors that make the case eligible for the death penalty. But prosecutors filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty in only 15 murder cases during that span and pursued the death penalty at trial in only five of those cases — a 1 percent rate among death-eligible cases.

    "Under the Colorado capital sentencing system," the authors write in their report, "many defendants are eligible but almost none are actually sentenced to death. Because Colorado's aggravating factors so rarely result in actual death sentences, their use in any given case is a violation of the Eighth Amendment."

    The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

    The study was conducted by University of Denver law professors Justin Marceau and Sam Kamin and Rowan University professor Wanda Foglia with funds provided by Montour's defense team.

    Montour, who pleaded guilty to killing Colorado Department of Corrections Officer Eric Autobee, is facing the possibility of a death-penalty sentencing hearing as early as the end of this year.

    Montour's team has now included the new study into a motion asking a judge to cancel Montour's sentencing hearing and find the Colorado death- penalty law unconstitutional.

    Prosecutors from the 18th Judicial District attorney's office, which is handling Montour's case, have not yet had a chance to respond to the motion.

    "A preliminary report has been filed by the defense regarding a motion that is presently pending before the Montour court," Chief Deputy District Attorney John Topolnicki said in a statement. "The merits of the defense motion are yet to be decided and are being contested by the prosecution."

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

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    Capital punishment

    Opponents of Colorado's death penalty are working behind the scenes in preparation for the 2013 session of the state Legislature.

    According to the NAACP's Rosemary Harris Lytle, death-penalty abolitionists have been meeting to discuss the upcoming session and the possibility of moving forward a bill to remove the death penalty.

    Harris Lytle wouldn't comment on specifics.

    "They are certainly talking about it right now," says House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs.

    With Democrats in control of the Legislature, this will be the first time that opponents of capital punishment will have an opportunity to advance their agenda since their failed 2009 attempt.

    Now, just as then, they will encounter obstacles. For one, as Waller points out, "it's one of those issues that is not strictly down party-line. I think that, for the Democrats, it's going to be an issue of needing some Republican support, not to pass it, but even to bring it forward."

    The current Senate president, Springs Democrat John Morse, actually opposed the 2009 bill.

    Secondly, this conversation undoubtedly will be affected by the high-profile case of James Holmes, who is standing trial for the Aurora theater shooting. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 66 percent of Coloradans believe that Holmes ought to receive the death penalty.

    Currently, three men sit on Colorado's death row.

    For Waller, who supports the death penalty, the best example of where it could arguably be applied is in the case of Miguel Alonso Contreras-Perez, a convicted sex offender accused of murdering a female correctional officer in September. "What do you do with a guy like that?" Waller asks. "He's already serving a life sentence. What, do you give him another life sentence for that?"

    Or, for example, Edward Montour Jr., convicted of a 2002 attack on a correctional officer while serving a life sentence.

    Montour's case is interesting in its own right. His attorney, David Lane, has put forth a constitutional opposition to the Colorado death penalty based on its supposedly cruel and unusual nature.

    "The U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that the legislatures of the states must find a way to rationally distinguish between the many who don't deserve the death penalty from the few who do," says Lane. "And they have done this through the use of 'aggravating circumstances.'"

    For years, Colorado's Legislature has added aggravating circumstances, conditions that qualify a murderer for the death penalty. These run the gamut from murdering a judge, or any elected state, county or municipal official, to murdering someone based on race.

    Lane commissioned a study of the state's murder cases from 1999 to 2010, finding that aggravating circumstances were present in 92 percent of all murder cases, but only in 1 percent did prosecutors seek death.

    "The point of the Supreme Court decision is that it can't be left up to the tender mercies of prosecutors to narrow the field" of who can receive the death penalty, Lane says. "It is a legislative function."

    Despite his opposition in 2009, Morse says that his stance on the death penalty is not set in stone.

    "I think Colorado does a very good job of administering the death penalty but I also think that we also spend an awful lot of money doing it with no deterrent effect," he says. "It's not a bill I would bring, but if somebody brings it, I wouldn't say for sure that I would be a 'no' vote; I don't know. I'll struggle with that one if it comes back."

    However, if the judge rules in Lane's favor, the legislative debate could become moot.

    "Then the existence of the death penalty, theoretically becomes unconstitutional, and it doesn't matter what we do," says Morse. "If the judge rules that this is in violation of the 8th Amendment, cool, they win. Game over."


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    Death penalty foes may try to repeal Colorado's ultimate punishment

    Foes of capital punishment for months have quietly sought advice and support for a campaign to end Colorado's death penalty even as a series of horrific, high-profile murders have unfolded at home and nationwide.

    Their adversaries — and some traditional allies — question the timing, saying fresh memories of mass shootings in Aurora and elsewhere, the slaying of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway and other grisly crimes could turn lawmakers against potential legislation in 2013.

    But those incidents could also strengthen efforts to end capital punishment, said state Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, who pointed out that the death penalty is either unlikely or impossible in many of the state's most recent cases.

    "These are horrific crimes, but the death penalty will probably not be imposed. If anything, it reinforces the notion that (the death penalty) is outmoded," Levy said. "Why do we have this law on the books if it doesn't prevent these types of crimes?"

    Three years after a prior attempt to end the death penalty failed, the political playing field looks more favorable, and advocates like Levy have added research critical of how the death penalty is applied to their arsenal.

    It's too early to say whether legislation will be drafted for 2013, said Levy, who's still polling fellow lawmakers on their views.

    But the idea is to funnel any savings from lengthy and complex death-penalty litigation — estimated in 2009 to be about $1.5 million a year — to solving cold cases and possibly mental- health treatment or other crime-prevention programs.

    Age and mental illness

    Death is a rarely sought punishment in Colorado. The state has executed one person since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

    There are three people currently on death row, including two men who killed a state representative's son.

    Age and mental illness could prevent more recent accused killers from joining them.

    College student Austin Sigg, 17, confessed to killing Jessica Ridgeway in October. Because of his age, the most serious penalty he can face is life in prison with the possibility for parole after 40 years.

    Accused theater shooter James Holmes' defense team has already laid groundwork for an insanity defense. Likewise, Ari Liggett, accused of poisoning and dismembering his mother, has a long history of mental illness according to his mother's fianc.

    The U.S. Constitution bans the execution of insane people incapable of understanding their wrongdoing or the punishment that follows.

    In other high-profile murders across the U.S. — the mass shooting of children in Newtown, Conn., or the murder of worshipers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin — no gunman survived to be prosecuted

    But Coloradans nonetheless should think of these examples when considering the death penalty, says Attorney General John Suthers.

    He said not every shooter is insane, and in some instances the only suitable punishment — for the safety of the public — is death. He hopes lawmakers keep recent events in mind.

    "The Colorado legislature ought to ask itself if there are crimes being committed in Colorado today where citizens could decide that life in prison is not adequate — cases where without (the death penalty), society appears defenseless," Suthers said.

    But Suthers noted there have been political changes at the statehouse since a similar proposal failed in 2009, and said now is "an ideal time" for anti-death penalty advocates to push their cause.

    On May 7, 2009, state senators called out their votes on House Bill 1274 — a proposal to end the death penalty — one by one. The vote came on the last day of the legislative session and after days of fierce debate.

    In the end, four Democrats joined Republicans and the measure failed by one vote.

    Then-Gov. Bill Ritter, a former Denver district attorney, had declined to say whether he would sign or veto the legislation, making it tough for some lawmakers to risk a controversial vote to end capital punishment.

    But today, the political landscape has changed.

    A new governor is in office. While Gov. John Hickenlooper said in 2010 he did not support abolishing the death penalty, his views are less certain now.

    "Capital punishment is another one of those things where I haven't come to rest on a position," Hickenlooper said in a recent interview with The Denver Post. "That decision is going to come sooner than later."

    A spokesman for Hickenlooper said the governor has not discussed potential death-penalty legislation with lawmakers this year

    And one of the four Democrats who defeated the bill in 2009 — now Senate President-elect John Morse, D-Colorado Springs — is changing his mind.

    "I recognize that usually when you have an Aurora or a Columbine, you end up with somebody who's so profoundly mentally ill that we really don't have the death penalty as an option," said Morse, a former police officer. "If, in fact, it is introduced as a bill this year, I will struggle with it but likely will end up voting to repeal (the death penalty)."

    Morse said the disparities in who receives the death penalty — all three death row inmates are African-American — bothers him.

    Seeking death penalty

    Recent research out of the University of Denver revealed that Colorado prosecutors secured death sentences in only three of 500 eligible cases for the decade ending in 2010. Researchers cited U.S. Supreme Court opinions stating arbitrary imposition of the death penalty amounts to the type of cruel and unusual punishment banned by the U.S. Constitution.

    Suthers said he has plans to narrow the situations in which the death penalty can be sought in order to quell those constitutional concerns.

    Should a bill be drafted, lawmakers will also have a firsthand perspective on the death penalty from one of their own.

    The two men who killed the son of state Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and his fiance in 2005 are currently appealing their death penalty convictions.

    Javad Marshall-Fields, who had witnessed a murder, was shot to death before he could testify in court. Vivian Wolfe was with him in the car at the time.

    Months of post-conviction hearings for Sir Mario Owens, one of the convicted murderers, are continuing in Arapahoe County District Court, where teams of top prosecutors and defense attorneys are poring over trial counsel's alleged missteps and minute policy details that informed the way Owens' defense was handled.

    Fields did not return a call for comment but in the past has not objected to the death penalty for her son's killers.

    Levy acknowledged that few things are more powerful under the dome of the state Capitol than a compelling personal story. Any death-penalty repeal Levy drafted wouldn't be retroactive, she said.

    "We have to be sensitive to the fact that she experiences this issue in a way that is unique," Levy said. "Certainly, I'm respectful of how difficult this is for her."

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

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    Rep. Fields wants Colorado voters to decide death penalty question

    A lawmaker who saw her son's killers sentenced to die says Colorado voters — and not 100 lawmakers under the state Capitol's golden dome — should decide whether to abolish the death penalty.

    As state Rep. Rhonda Fields' Democratic colleagues attempt to gather support for ending capital punishment through legislation, she has started work on a bill that would put the death-penalty question on the 2014 ballot, she said.

    Her counterproposal sets the stage for a political showdown on a traditionally touchy topic at the Capitol, where some key officials' stances against abolishing the death penalty have recently softened.

    "Colorado lawmakers should not slam the door on justice for those who commit heinous crimes," Fields said. "I believe that society must be protected, and the voters should decide the fate of capital punishment."

    Colorado has executed one man since the death penalty was reinstated in Colorado in 1975. Three men currently wait on death row.

    Two of them — Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens — were responsible for shooting Javad Marshall-Fields to death in 2005 to prevent him from testifying against them in a previous murder case. Marshall-Fields' fiance, Vivian Wolfe, was also killed .

    Already sentenced to life in prison by the time they went to trial for the murders of Fields' son and would-be daughter-in-law, the killers would have faced no additional penalty had capital punishment been repealed, Attorney General John Suthers pointed out.

    "For killing the witness in your case, you're going to get no more serious consequence than if they'd testified against you?" Suthers asked. "Life imprisonment is not an adequate societal response."

    Owens and Ray are in the midst of lengthy and costly appeals.

    State Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said that while she has not yet drafted 2013 legislation to end the death penalty, she has no plans to undo the sentences of men already on death row.

    She pointed to the number of exonerations nationwide, research showing that Colorado's death penalty is applied arbitrarily and the increasing number of states abandoning capital punishment.

    "There is a growing consensus that the death penalty is a failed policy that's outlived its time," Levy said.

    So far, she has been joined by Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who has said publicly that while he has no moral objection to the death penalty, lengthy and complex litigation and appeals are a drain on resources better spent elsewhere.

    One of the state senators who helped kill a similar bill Levy carried in 2009 — Senate President-elect John Morse, D-Colorado Springs — said recently that he has rethought his position. And Gov. John Hickenlooper, who told The Denver Post in 2010 that he opposed repealing the death penalty, now says his mind is not made up on the topic.

    Fields' proposed referred measure would add some uncertainty to the mix.

    For lawmakers, it could take away the risk of appearing soft on crime by giving them the option to send the death-penalty question to their constituents.

    A 2008 poll by RBI Strategies found Coloradans evenly split on the most appropriate punishment for murder, with 45 percent favoring death and an equal portion favoring life without parole.

    Nationwide, support for the death penalty fell to a 39-year low — 61 percent in favor of it — in 2011, according to the most recent Gallup polling on the topic.

    But neither survey takes into account the effect that recent horrific murders — such as the Aurora theater shooting, the slaying of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway and the Newtown, Conn., massacre of schoolchildren — may have had on the public or lawmakers.

    When given the option to repeal capital punishment in 1966 — under circumstances in some ways similar to today — voters opted to keep it, according to a history of capital punishment in Colorado published in the University of Colorado Law Review by sociology professor Michael Radelet.

    Then, too, a referred measure was proposed in the wake of a number of failed bills to abolish capital punishment.

    But in the months running up to the 1966 election, the public was bombarded with a series of unusually brutal crimes — the bludgeoning death of a woman on a college campus and the mass shooting from a tower on the University of Texas' campus in Austin among them.

    The events "arguably affected the vote more than any statements for or against the death penalty," and voters rejected repeal by nearly a two-to-one margin, Radelet writes.

    No one can predict how the public's mood might change by November 2014 — or if Fields' measure will be on the ballot that year.

    But if it is, Fields said, at least the matter will be decided by a broad array of people, some who have been affected by crime like she has.

    And should the vote go against her?

    "That," she said, "is a decision I could live with."

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

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    Bill to repeal Colorados death penalty will be introduced next week

    Beware the Ides of March.

    As if state lawmakers dont already have their hands full with enough hot-button issues, legislation to repeal Colorados death penalty is set to be introduced next Friday, March 15.

    Multiple sources have confirmed that the legislation will be introduced in the House and will get its initial House committee hearing the following Tuesday, March 19.

    The bill will be sponsored by Reps. Claire Levy of Boulder and Jovan Melton of Aurora; on the Senate side the sponsors are Sens. Morgan Carroll of Aurora and Lucia Guzman of Denver.

    Introducing the bill just past the mid-way point of the legislative session underlines the political complications surrounding the bill.

    Democrats, who control both legislative chambers and the governors office, likely have the votes to pass the bill. The question is whether they want to add another controversial accomplishment to their 2013 resumes in a year when theyre already likely to pass several gun control proposals.

    They also risk a fight with one of their own, state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who is a staunch supporter of the death penalty.

    She fought for the death penalty for Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray, who both convicted of killing her son back in 2005.

    An additional political complication is the looming execution of Nathan Dunlap, who murdered four people in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant 19 years ago and, along with Fields killers, is one of three people on Colorados death row.

    Hes scheduled to get the needle later this year.

    So the bills introduction and potential passage means a choice for Gov. John Hickenlooper: either sign a bill repealing the death penalty or sign an execution order for Dunlap.

    The real focus here will be on Gov. Hickenlooper, said political analyst Eric Sondermann. Does he sign a repeal bill if it reaches his desk? My guess would be yes. Absent such a bill, does he commute Nathan Dunlaps sentence when that last-ditch appeal reaches his office? That is a tougher, closer call.

    Passing a package of tough gun control measures and repealing the death penalty in one session is a risk for Democrats, hoping to hold legislative majorities beyond 2014, and for Hickenlooper, a political moderate thought to be a safe bet for reelection at this point but starting to face more pressure from his own partys base and its advancement of an ambitious legislative agenda and the resulting backlash from conservatives and moderates who think it goes too far.

    In Sondermanns view, repealing the death penalty isnt as risky as it might have been a few years ago.

    Public opinion is moving on the death penalty as it is on a number of other hot-button issues, and that opposition to this ultimate sanction is no longer the political killer that it might have been five or ten years ago, he said.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

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