Colorado’s death penalty repeal failure means ‘unneeded violence’, critic says

Denver, Colo., Apr 2, 2019 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- A death penalty repeal effort has failed in the Colorado legislature after failing to win enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Colorado Catholic Conference is “deeply disappointed” by the postponement of the bill, conference executive director Jennifer Kraska told CNA April 2.

“For the sake of our own humanity, we need to turn away from a mistaken idea of justice based – in practice – on further and unneeded violence,” Kraska said. “We pray that someday soon our legislators will have the wisdom and courage to end the death penalty in Colorado.”

“Pope Francis has reminded us that our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” she added. “The death penalty is a clear affront to the dignity and sanctity of human life that excludes the possibility of rehabilitation. There are much less costly alternatives available to the State of Colorado that would both punish offenders and protect society.”

While Democrats control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature, repeal backers appeared to lack enough votes in the Senate, where Democrats have a 19-16 majority.

Senate Bill 182 was set to be debated before the full Senate April 2. Bill sponsor Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, then took the floor to ask that the bill be removed from consideration this legislative session.

“I could ask you to cast your vote publicly, to reject this irrevocably cruel, unusual and ghastly practice,” Gonzales said, according to Colorado Public Radio.

She said she wanted to give the bill “a dignified death, not a torturous one.”

“I believe wholeheartedly that the way in which we treat each other through this process is as important as the policy itself,” Gonzales continued. “So when this bill comes back next session, there will be nothing left to hide behind, except this abhorrent, terrible practice.”

The inmates now on death row in the state are Nathan Dunlap, who murdered four people at a children’s restaurant, and Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray, who both had been involved in the murder of a young engaged couple, Javan Marshall Fields and Vivian Wolfe. Fields was set to testify against Ray in court on charges Ray was an accomplice in a murder case.

The murders helped inspire Fields’ mother, Aurora Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields, to become active in public life. Fields was one of the critics of the bill, objecting to the speed with which it passed through committee consideration.

“I’m feeling just numb. I don’t think there’s any winners in what happened today,” she said in response to the outcome, the Colorado Sun reports. “I’m not elated. I’m really not sad. I’m just feeling really numb and empty inside.”

Fields had pledged to vote against the bill, while four other Democratic senators had not stated their position or had said they were uncertain.

State legislators have tried to repeal the death penalty five times since 2000.

Gonzales’ own family has suffered violence, with her father-in-law murdered and the suspect never prosecuted.

When she heard bill critics who had lost loved ones, she said, “I heard that same grief, pain, and rage that I have heard in my own family.”

“I had to ask myself, in the event that the man who murdered my father-in-law were ever brought to justice, whether I myself could support the death penalty as punishment. The answer simply is no,” the senator added.

Republican critics of the repeal bill have said it should be put before a popular vote.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, voiced gratitude that the bill was postponed.

“Whether or not you support or oppose the death penalty, it is important to recognize the emotional weight that this issue carries to many in our state,” Hill said.

In 2013, then-governor John Hickenlooper temporarily suspended the execution of Dunlap. Legal appeals continue for Owens and Ray.

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