Friday, July 25, 2008

A Better Way to Spend the Money

We continue to follow with interest the efforts of victim's family member Howard Morton and his group Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons (FOHVAMP); they have been working to repeal Colorado's death penalty and use those funds to solve the state's many unsolved homicides.

Today's Colorado Springs Gazette has a story with the headline "Victims' families meet to hear proposal; group wants to redirect death penalty funding":

Family members of homicide victims with unsolved cases met Thursday night to hear a once-failed proposal to abolish capital punishment in Colorado and redirect money used for that purpose toward solving cold murders.

The proposal is the agenda of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, a nonprofit organization dedicated to seeing solved as many of the 1,300 unsolved murders in Colorado as possible.

The group told a room of about 30 people gathered at the East Library, 5550 N. Union Blvd., the most effective way of achieving that is to reallocate the $3 million the state pays annually to "maintain" the death penalty, most of which goes toward the expensive and lengthy appeals process, to a cold case division of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation with an "ample" travel budget.

"We are certain the greatest deterrent to murder is the certainty of apprehension," said Howard Morton, the organization's director, whose own son's 33-year-old murder case remains unsolved in Arizona.

Among the forum's attendees was Cynthia Renkel of Parker, who throughout the meeting held in her lap a picture of her 24-year-old sister Mary Lynn Vialpando, who was raped, stabbed and beaten to death in Old Colorado City in 1988.

Having endured 20 years and a cycle through a dozen detectives without a named suspect in her sister's murder, Renkel supports the group's initiative.

"Although there are tips that police could investigate, they have a lack of resources to do so," she said.

The Colorado Springs Police Department has one cold case investigator assigned to the city's 86 unsolved murders. The El Paso County Sheriff 's Office's volunteer cold case detectives recently disbanded. Fourteen murders remain unsolved in the county.

Legislation that would have achieved Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons' goal was shot down by the state Legislature in 2007. The measure met much organized opposition, including the Colorado District Attorney's Council, which Morton said believes in the death penalty as a deterrent.

No one sponsored similar legislation in this year's session.

Survey results the group published in February found that 70 percent of the population supported catching murderers rather than retrying capital cases with the guarantee that convicted murderers would receive life sentences with no chance of parole.

Morton said Gov. Bill Ritter told him he would consider supporting the establishment of a CBI cold case unit if the group would find another source of funding.

"We want the death penalty abolished, and we want that money put toward cold case investigation in CBI," Morton said. "We're going to ride that horse until it falls dead on the track."

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