Saturday, April 25, 2009

Eliminating death penalty in Colorado the right move

Eliminating death penalty in Colorado the right move

By Erika Stutzman
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Count us among those applauding the Colorado House's close-as-a-shave vote to eliminate the death penalty here. The bill, which now goes to the state Senate, would take money used for death penalty cases and apply it toward solving cold cases.

There are more than 1,400 unsolved homicides since 1970 in Colorado. House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, pointed out that the last death-penalty case tried in Colorado cost $1.4 million to prosecute.

Here's what happened: Jose Luis Rubi-Nava, charged with the brutal killing of his girlfriend, pleaded guilty instead. That grand price tag didn't result in his death -- something that a whole lot of people still clamor for -- but instead with a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Non-capital cases cost about $70,000, Weissmann said. There are two men on Colorado's death row now. Imagine if the state were to spend $140,000 prosecuting those cases, rather than an estimated $2.8 million. Imagine if those millions, instead, were able to solve the murder of Boulder's Sid Wells, who at 22 was found killed execution-style on Aug. 1, 1983.

A Gallup poll in the fall showed that 64 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, while just 30 percent oppose it. But death as a deterrent to hideous, heinous crimes doesn't seem to hold water in the United States, despite that widespread support of it.

Texas has 373 people on death row. It has put 423 convicts to death since 1974, when the death penalty was reinstated. The murder rate there is 5.9 per 100,000.

Colorado, which has executed just one person since 1975 when the death penalty was reinstated, has a murder rate of 3.3 per 100,000. So the "don't mess with Texas" adage as a deterrent isn't working as planned. North Dakota, with no death penalty, has a murder rate of 1.3 per 100,000. Iowa doesn't have the death penalty; the rate there is 1.8 per 100,000.

To be fair, New Hampshire does have the death penalty and its murder rate is about as low as it can go: 1 per 100,000. New Hampshire also hasn't put anyone to death since the death penalty was reinstated there.

There is also the issue of a terrible possibility: Innocent people on death row. Texas has released nine people from death row, in addition to two clemencies. Florida, in addition to six clemencies, has reported 22 innocent people have been freed from death row.

The bill passed the House by just one vote, but is expected to pass in the Senate. Gov. Bill Ritter has not said whether he supports it.

We hope it does pass in the Senate, and we hope the governor signs it. For the grieving friends and families of more than 1,400 Coloradans, that expanded chance for justice outweighs the desire for ultimate revenge on a very few, who will spend the rest of their days in prison where they belong.

-- Erika Stutzman,

for the Camera editorial board

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