Thursday, April 30, 2009

We Want Action

The bill that would repeal Colorado's death penalty and use the funds for solving cold cases, which we have been following here over the past several weeks, passed out of the Senate Committee yesterday. Once again, victims' families were a crucial part of the day's testimony, including MVFHR Board President Bud Welch.

Here's a clip from the Colorado Springs Gazette:

A bill to abolish the death penalty in Colorado advanced Wednesday when the state Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee approved it on a 3-2 vote.

By abolishing the death penalty, HB1274 would save an estimated $1 million a year, mostly by ending death-penalty prosecutions. Because the money saved would be transferred to the state's cold-case homicide unit, many family members of murder victims support the bill.

Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said $1 million, roughly a fifteenfold increase in funding for the cold-case unit, would make a difference in solving some of the state's 1,430-plus unsolved slayings.

"Our goal is to take these murderers off the streets," said Debra Meyer of Colorado Springs, whose brother, Ricky Espinoza, was murdered there in 2001 and is on the cold-case list. She testified in favor of the bill.

But Attorney General John Suthers testified that some crimes are so heinous that capital punishment is the only appropriate societal response. "That's not vengeance," he said. "It's justice."

Suthers and other prosecutors who testified asked that the issue be decided not by the Legislature, but by a statewide referendum.
The death penalty is used very sparingly in Colorado. The state has executed only one person in four decades, and its death row currently has only two residents.

But capital prosecutions aren't rare at all - the death penalty has been sought in 124 Colorado cases since 1980. And they are costly: Tamara Brady of the state public defender's office testified that its capital murder cases cost an average of $584,000 a year while first-degree murder cases cost $70,000 a year.

But supporters insisted money wasn't the central issue. They cited statistics indicating that the death penalty was no deterrent.
Others disputed the supposed healing benefits of the execution of their loved ones' murderers. Bud Welch's daughter Julie was one of 168 killed in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Six years later the bomber was executed - an outcome that Welch said he originally sought, only to change his mind.

"We took Tim McVeigh and we killed him," Welch said. "And there was nothing about that process that brought me any peace or any feel-good."

And from The Examiner:

A group of families of murder victims whose cases remain unsolved are the main force behind the bill, which passed the House by a single vote last week. They lined up to testify in front of the committee, some of them with framed photographs of their slain relatives. Some recounted how their loved ones were killed, offering details about how many times they were stabbed and how their bodies were disposed of.

Howard Morton said his eldest son was killed when he was 18, and it took 12 years to find his body.

"We don't want to hear that we're sorry for your loss. We want action for our murders. We want justice for our loved ones," said Morton, executive director of Families of Missing Homicide Victims and Missing Persons.

The bill has also gained support from national anti-death penalty advocates including Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and Randy Steidl, a former death row inmate from Illinois who was later exonerated.

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