Thursday, 8 February 2007

House panel OKs bill ending death penalty

February 8, 2007


February 08, 2007

House panel OKs bill ending death penalty

Measure would also create a 7-member statewide cold-case unit

By ED SEALOVER, Colorado Springs Gazette

DENVER - House Democrats took the first step toward abolishing the death
penalty in Colorado on Wednesday, giving committee approval to a measure
that would end executions and fund a statewide cold-case unit.

House Bill 1094 passed 7-4, but it may have a short life. A spokesman for
Gov. Bill Ritter said the newly elected Democrat opposes the measure.

The six Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee and one Republican, Rep.
Debbie Stafford of Aurora, voted for Rep. Paul Weissman's bill.

Weissman, D-Louisville, insisted afterward that the importance of the bill
is not the abolition of the death penalty, since

Colorado has executed just one person since 1967 and has only two people on
Death Row.

Instead, he argued, the importance of his legislation is the creation of a
seven-person unit within the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to investigate
homicides that have been unsolved for more than a year.

There have been roughly 1,200 unsolved homicides in the state since 1970.

"To me, that's like 1,200 murderers walking free," Weissman said. "For
society's sake, it's probably a bigger benefit that we catch these guys."

Several of the Republicans on the committee countered that Weissman is
presenting an unnecessary choice between the cold-case unit and the death
penalty. Everyone on the committee supported the creation of the unit, said
Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, argued the death penalty is an
important deterrent, especially for prisoners serving life sentences who
might consider killing guards or other inmates.

"It should be a rare sentence, but nevertheless for certain types of crimes
and the most heinous of crimes, it is a necessary sentence," Gardner said.

Colorado Springs resident Angelika Austin testified before the committee as
a victim of a violent crime that resulted in a death sentence.

Austin told the committee she was raped by two men while she was a Florida
high school student. One of the rapists was sentenced to death while the
other received a life sentence. When the execution is carried out, it will
bring back her pain and agony, she said.

"The death penalty carries the official message it is an appropriate and an
effective response to killing. It is not," she testified. "It contributes to
desensitizing the public to violence and to increasing public tolerance for
other human rights violated."

The Rev. Bill Carmody, pastor of Holy Family/St. Joseph Catholic Church in
Security, also testified in favor of the bill and said afterward it is a
"step in the right direction."

Weissman has attempted for six straight years to eliminate the attorney
general's death penalty prosecution unit during budget negotiations, but his
amendments failed.

Whether the bill will make it out of the Appropriations Committee, where it
heads next, is unknown. Committee members must consider a projected $670,130
cost for the cold-case unit and a reduction in costs of $769,445 for death
penalty prosecution and defense.

Even if the measure makes it to the House floor, Gov. Ritter opposes the
bill, partly because he, like the CBI and Department of Public Safety, is
comfortable with the current arrangement that allows local agencies to work
on their cold cases, spokesman Evan Dreyer said.

Ritter sought the death penalty seven times in his eight years as Denver
district attorney, he said.

Gardner said after the vote that a divide is emerging on the committee
between "those who stand with victims . . . and those who would be more
concerned with the rights of defendants."

Stephens suggested any decision to eliminate the death penalty should be put
before voters because of its importance. Committee Chairman Rep. Terrence
Carroll, D-Denver, said, however, that voters elected the legislators to
make such decisions.


Source : Colorado Springs Gazette

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