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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A renewed debate on Colorado's death penalty

James E. Holmes (L), Dexter Lewis (R)
James E. Holmes (L), Dexter Lewis (R)
In the past 12 months, two separate polls have indicated that most Coloradans support the death penalty.

In September of last year, a Denver Post poll found 63 % of respondents support the death penalty, with 28 % opposed (the rest were unsure).

And 2 months ago a Quinnipiac University poll found 67 % of respondents in Colorado supported the death penalty, with only 26 % saying it should be abolished.

Both of those polls occurred, of course, before the recent verdicts that sentenced both James Holmes and Dexter Lewis to life in prison without a chance for parole.

Does that change the political calculus for Coloradans?

Does the fact that criminals who committed 2 of the most brutal massacres in memory in this state escaped the death penalty despite the efforts of highly skilled prosecutors say anything about whether the law should be retained?

We think it does. Indeed, the verdicts seem to confirm what death penalty opponents have been arguing for years: that some of the same Coloradans who tell pollsters that they support the death penalty are actually reluctant to vote for it when they find themselves on a jury faced with the life-or-death question.

For that matter, prosecutors are clearly reluctant to ask for the penalty given the resources of staff and money they have to pour into the effort over a period that stretches into years.

The result is that it is almost impossible to predict who will get the death penalty and who will not - not to mention when a prosecutor will even choose to seek it.

No law with such serious consequences should be applied so haphazardly.

Perhaps not surprisingly, however, the essays published in this section today suggest that despite the 2 verdicts, opinions on the death penalty remain nearly as entrenched as they ever were.

With one possible exception: In her reaction, state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, appears to flirt with repudiating her past support for the death penalty, without actually doing so. If she ever does, it will be a major loss to the coalition in support of capital punishment given her party affiliation and personal history of having her son's killers on death row.

Even if Colorado's law remains unchanged, it's an ideal time for Coloradans to reassess arguments for and against the death penalty given what has just occurred. So long as the penalty remains on the books, the debate about its morality and fairness will surely continue.

Source: Denver Post Editorial Board, Sept. 6, 2015

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