"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Friday, May 29, 2015

Nebraska death penalty vote gives hope to capital punishment opponents in Colorado

Colorado death chamber
Colorado death chamber
ACLU will try to sway state's GOP lawmakers

Buoyed by conservative Nebraska's decision to do away with the death penalty, capital punishment opponents say they will try to sway GOP lawmakers in Colorado to follow suit.

"It's not going to be easy," said Denise Maes, public policy director of the ACLU of Colorado. "I think we know that, given our attempts to repeal it in the past."

Maes said the ACLU is part of the Better Priorities Initiative, a coalition of organizations committed to repealing the death penalty in Colorado.

She said coalition members believe that the large amounts of money spent on death penalty cases would be better spent elsewhere.

She acknowledges that many people still support the death penalty, but said public opinion is changing.

"It's no longer in strong support," she said, adding that some victim's families don't support it.

Death Row

There are 3 people on death row in Colorado.

Nathan Dunlap has been there the longest. He was sentenced to death in May of 1996, after killing 4 people at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora, in 1993.

Dunlap exhausted his appeals and an execution date was set, but Governor John Hickenlooper, described by one supporter as "essentially a Quaker," granted a temporary reprieve.

The other 2 inmates on death row, Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens, were convicted and sentenced for the ambush slayings of Javad Marshall Fields and his fiance, Vivian Wolfe.

Fields' mother, Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, supports capital punishment. She called an earlier attempt to repeal the death penalty "a slap in the face."

Maes said Republicans in Nebraska made some very good arguments for change.

She said they realized that they were spending a lot of money on death penalty cases when no one was getting executed.

"At the end of the day, it's a big government program that spends a lot of money and does very little for people," she said.

When asked if the coalition would seek to put the issue to a vote of the people, Maes said they would likely focus on the legislature.

"Elections are expensive," she said. "Sometimes it can come down to just a bumper sticker exercise and a few commercials here and there, and I worry that there's not enough thorough discussion, debate and good education."

When asked how soon Colorado might do away with the death penalty, Maes said she didn't know.

"I think if we didn't have the Holmes (theater shooting) case it would be so much easier," she said. "If he gets life and not the death penalty, I think it's a little easier, because we're going to realize that we spent north of $2.5 million on Holmes, before the trial started."

Coalition members didn't focus on Republicans during the last attempt to repeal capital punishment, in 2013, because Democrats were in control of both houses.

"We were lazy and didn't need to," she said. "We thought we had it with the Democrats."

The repeal effort stalled in the House Judiciary Committee after the Governor voiced concerns.

Maes said, what happened in Nebraska has changed their thinking.

She said it's possible that lawmakers could come up with another proposal when they convene in 2016.

"If Nebraska can do it, Colorado can do it," she said.

Source: thedenverchannel.com, May 29, 2015

Colorado should follow Nebraska and abolish death penalty

If Nebraska can do it, why not Colorado?

Abolish the death penalty, that is.

Nebraska has a unicameral, officially nonpartisan legislature, but there is no doubt it is controlled by Republicans. And those red-state lawmakers last week voted by a lopsided 32 to 15 to abolish capital punishment.

More surprisingly, they voted Wednesday to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto, with only two senators switching their position.

Among the striking aspects of this chain of events is the pragmatism exhibited by senators, some of whom actually support the death penalty but recognize that it has become almost impossible to implement on a consistent (and therefore fair) basis.

Nebraska hasn't put a murderer to death since 1997.

Colorado hasn't put a murderer to death since 1997, too.

And before that in Colorado, you have to go back to 1967 to find an execution.

Other lawmakers in Nebraska worried about the possibility of false convictions, given recent exonerations elsewhere in the nation. And at least one conservative senator voted for repeal in order to "follow through with my life convictions, which is life from conception to natural death."

Colorado's legislature is divided between a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican Senate, and any attempt to repeal the death penalty is likely to get little traction in the upper chamber. But Republicans there might at least consider the arguments from Nebraska.

Do they really believe, for example, the death penalty will ever be put to regular use here? Do they relish the resource-consuming spectacles of endless motions and delays in trials when the death sentence is in play (see Holmes, James), or the prospect of decades of foot-dragging appeals?

False convictions in death-penalty trials are not an issue in Colorado, but where exactly is the justice in executing one particularly heinous murderer every few decades while many other equally heinous murderers are sentenced to life without parole?

2 years ago Gov. John Hickenlooper derailed a move in the legislature to repeal the death penalty, while also issuing a temporary reprieve to death-row inmate Nathan Dunlap and declaring that he personally opposed capital punishment.

Unlike Nebraska's Ricketts, in other words, Hickenlooper presumably would sign a repeal that reached his desk.

But it's got to get there first.

Source: Denver Post Editorial Board, May 29, 2015

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