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USA | The Dreadful Failure of Lethal Injection

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Editor’s Note: This column is the product of a research collaboration with five Amherst College students, Mattea Denny, Nicolas Graber-Mitchell, Greene Ko, Rose Mroczka, and Lauren Pelosi. America’s death penalty continues to fall out of favor, a well-known fact. When the year started, eight executions were scheduled for February and March in five different states. But all of them are now on hold, and two of the three executions that were set for April already have been halted. While advocacy for the end of the death penalty has played some role, it is the decomposition of the lethal injection paradigm that has truly driven down execution numbers. We have now seen a decade of chaos and experimentation as death penalty jurisdictions tried to find reliable sources of drugs to carry out executions. States rolled out new drugs, but things did not go smoothly. The number of mishaps associated with lethal injection increased substantially. From 2010-2020, an already problematic method of ex

Colorado Senate committee backs eliminating death penalty


DENVER—A proposal to eliminate the death penalty in Colorado cleared another hurdle at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee endorsed the measure (House Bill 1274) in a party-line vote, sending in to another committee for a vote. The bill would take the $1 million now being spent to prosecute death penalty cases and use it to investigate cold cases. That would add seven employees to the state's cold case unit, which currently has only one investigator.

All three Democrats on the committee voted for the measure, and both Republicans voted against it.

Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, acknowledged the death penalty is expensive but said the state should find other ways to fund cold case investigations, such as cutting funding for tourism promotion or prison recreation programs. Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said the state could have spent less on promoting renewable energy instead.

But bill sponsor Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, argued that no other item the state spends its money on has gotten it so little in return. She said the state has spent between $1 million and $4 million a year for about 40 years to prosecute death penalty cases but has executed only one person during that time.

The last execution in Colorado was in 1997, when 53-year-old Gary Lee Davis was put to death for his conviction in a 1986 slaying.

Two men are now on death row in the state, but their sentences wouldn't be affected by the bill.

Two Democrats who voted for the bill—Sen. Betty Boyd of Lakewood and Sen. Bob Bacon—said they backed it because they believe capital punishment is morally wrong, not because of the cold case connection.

"I do not like what capital punishment does to my soul and to the soul of the United States," Bacon said.

Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, said she didn't think the state's money was being well spent on prosecuting death penalty cases. But she also said a comment from a witness about giving criminals time to seek redemption gave her something else to consider.

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.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and all but one of the state's district attorneys oppose the bill, as do the families of other murder victims, including the mothers of Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe. One of the two men on Colorado's death row, Sir Mario Owens, was convicted of masterminding the slaying of the couple as Marshall-Fields was getting ready to testify in a murder trial.

The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. If it passes the Senate, it will be sent to Gov. Bill Ritter, Denver's former district attorney. He hasn't said whether he would sign it.

Source: denverpost.com, April 29, 2009

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