House panel backs bill banning death penalty in Colo.
By Tim HooverThe Denver Post
A House committee Monday night, after hearing hours of emotional testimony, approved a bill that would ban the death penalty in Colorado.
In a more than six-hour hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, families of murder victims along with former prosecutors and others argued for and against HB 1274, which would make life in prison without parole the highest punishment available to prosecutors
Under the bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, any savings from not trying the expensive cases in court would go to investigating unsolved homicides.
"You can debate the morals (of the death penalty) forever," Weissmann said. "You can debate the question of deterrence forever."
But what can't be debated is the cost savings from not pursuing the death penalty, which Weissmann estimated to be millions of dollars per year. A legislative analysis, though, estimated the figure at $369,041 per year, a sum Weissmann said was far too low.
Weissmann sponsored a similar bill last year, but it narrowly failed on the House floor. The lawmaker, though, this year became House majority leader, an influential position that could give it more weight if it makes it to the floor.
Thirteen states have abolished the death penalty, and in eight other states, there is either a moratorium or de facto ban on executions.
Proponents of the bill, which included the crying relatives of murder victims, said there were more than 1,400 homicide cases that had not been cleared. They said the resources now used to put prisoners to death would be better spent hunting down killers still walking the streets.
Richard Bloch, a former prosecutor in Arapahoe County and now a criminal defense attorney, said death-penalty cases consume an enormous amount of resources in the legal system.
"I can tell you that the death penalty, in my opinion, is morally wrong and has no effect" on deterring crime, Bloch said.
But Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, a member of the committee and a career police officer, disagreed.
"How do we find justice for the Timothy McVeighs and Ted Bundys of the world that are just cold-blooded killers?" King asked.
"It is not justice to take a life for a life," Bloch said. "The justice system is not there to heal people."
Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, argued that some crimes are so heinous that life imprisonment without parole is "an inadequate societal response."
The committee approved the bill on a 7-4 party-line vote, with the majority Democrats voting in favor.
Tim Hoover: 303-954-1626 or firstname.lastname@example.org