DENVER | Colorado’s debate over repealing the death penalty will stay on hold, for now, after a state House committee decided Wednesday to delay a ballot measure on doing away with the punishment.
The ballot-measure suggestion was the second Democratic death-penalty proposal in as many days to go on ice. On Tuesday, an outright repeal was delayed by a separate committee after nine hours of emotional testimony on both sides.
The sponsor of the death-penalty ballot question, Rep. Rhonda Fields, is a supporter who proposed the ballot measure because she supports the death penalty and believes voters would decide to keep it.
Fields’ son was gunned down in 2005 by people who wanted to prevent his testifying in a murder trial. Two men await execution in Colorado for the killing.
“I think the time is not now to abolish the death penalty,” Fields said. She brought up last summer’s mass shooting in a movie theater, which happened in her suburban Denver district.
Fields said she hopes prosecutors seek the death penalty against accused shooter James Holmes. A decision on whether they’ll seek the death penalty is expected next month.
Fields said that replacing the death penalty with life without parole would leave the same punishment for too wide a variety of crimes.
“No matter how heinous the crime … we’re going to say everyone gets the same penalty, everyone,” Fields said.
Her ballot proposal attracted a small crowd of death-penalty supporters who argued the decision should go to voters, not the Legislature.
“If we are seriously talking about repealing the death penalty, I think every citizen in Colorado should get to weigh in,” said Joe Cannata, father of a murder victim and head of a Denver-area victims’ support group.
One of the few opponents of the public vote was Randy Steidl, a death row exonoree from Illinois. He said average voters don’t know enough about how the death penalty is applied to decide whether to repeal it.
“They have blind faith in the system, blind faith in authority,” Steidl said.
The debate in Colorado comes as Maryland is poised to become the 18th state in the country to repeal the death penalty. Lawmakers there approved a bill last week, and the governor is expected to sign it. Five other states also have abolished the death penalty in recent years.
Fields said she’s not sure whether her fellow Democrats plan to proceed with an outright repeal of the death penalty. She said she asked to put her version on hold to wait and see whether the other would proceed.
“My ultimate goal is to keep the death penalty intact, so I really need to wait to see what happens with the other bill,” Fields said.
House Bill 1270: https://bit.ly/15rkZf7