Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sending a Strong Message

Victims' families have been the driving force behind Colorado's death penalty repeal bill, which passed the House in a very close vote yesterday. Today's Denver Daily News has this article

The House yesterday gave final approval to a bill that would repeal the death penalty.
House Bill 1274, sponsored by Rep. Paul Weissman, D-Louisville, would shift funds used to prosecute and maintain death penalty cases to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for closing unsolved murder cases. Proponents believe the state would save close to $4 million by repealing the death penalty. The legislation narrowly passed the House after a 33-32 vote.

Vigil casts deciding vote
Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, cast the deciding vote after hesitating for almost a full minute before voting in favor of the bill.
Similar legislation was killed in 2007. The bill now heads to the Senate for debate. Gov. Bill Ritter, a former prosecutor, has not yet taken a stand on the legislation, which makes it unclear whether he would sign the bill into law if it made its way to his desk.
Opposition to the bill comes mostly from Republicans, who convinced six Democrats to vote against the measure along with them. One Republican — Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland — voted for the bill. Marostica has voted outside his party line several times this year.
Critics — including prosecutors and Republican Attorney General John Suthers — say the death penalty is a vital tool to discouraging violent crimes, especially inside prison walls. They also argue that the savings would be closer to $1.3 million, not $4 million.
Opponents such as Rhonda Fields, who is still mourning the loss of her son, Javad Marshall-Fields, who was killed with his fiance before he could testify against a suspect, lined up earlier to testify against the measure. Sir Mario Owens was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to death. He is one of only two inmates sitting on death row in Colorado.
He sits there with Nathan Dunlap, who murdered four people in 1996 at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant.
Family of victims of the Chuck E. Cheese murders also testified against the bill, arguing that the death penalty helps bring justice.

Death penalty rarely used
But the earlier tearful testimony of dozens of family and friends of unsolved-murder victims prevailed. Proponents point out that the death penalty has been used only once in the past 40 years.
There are 1,435 unsolved murder mysteries across the state.
“This is a very heartening development, not only for the families of these victims whose killers have never been prosecuted, but also for all the Coloradans who live in the communities that have been terrorized by the realization that we have killers walking among us and murderers living in our neighborhoods,” said Howard Morton, executive director of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons. “This vote by the House sends the strong message that we will no longer take a passive approach to old, unsolved murders. Colorado now intends to be proactive in going after these killers.”

Our previous posts about MVFHR member testimony at the Colorado hearings are here and here.

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