David Sabados to lead political effort to repeal Colorado death penalty
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This 2010 file photo shows the view a condemned inmate would have from a table inside the death chamber at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California.

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Sponsors of a bill to repeal Colorado’s capital punishment law gave it a “dignified death” and pulled it off the Senate calendar Tuesday, marking the sixth time in 19 years that lawmakers have proposed a repeal and failed to pass it.

Senate Bill 182 had been postponed on the legislative calendar several times over the past month as its four Democratic sponsors sought votes to pass it.

Gov. Jared Polis, also a Democrat, has said he supported a death-penalty repeal. His predecessor, Democrat John Hickenlooper, did not carry out a death penalty sentence during his eight years in office but stopped short of supporting the law’s repeal.

“For many of us, this has not been solely a head issue,” said state Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, a primary sponsor. “It’s a heart issue.”

Gonzales said she asked for more time so her colleagues could fully consider the bill.

“I believe wholeheartedly that the way in which we treat each other in this process is as important as the process itself,” she said on the Senate floor, “so when this bill comes back next session, there will be nothing left to hide behind.”

Other than Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson, the bill had no public Republican support and was poised to divide Democrats.

“The people of Colorado have a right to speak on this issue,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, in a statement. “Whether or not you support or oppose the death penalty, it is important to recognize the emotional weight that this issue carries to many in our state.

“I’m thankful that the Senate recognized this and decided to postpone this debate until we can conduct a deliberative process with victims, advocates, activists and legal professionals together to reach a conclusion that includes all voices.”

Colorado’s last execution — and its only one since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977 — was of murderer and rapist Gary Lee Davis in 1997. Before that, Luis José Monge, who killed his wife and three children, was put to death in 1967.

Three men are on Colorado’s death row: Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 1993; and Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray, co-defendants convicted in the 2005 killing of Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe. Marshall-Fields was a witness against Ray in another killing.

Marshall-Fields’ mother, Rhonda Fields, is now a state senator. She and fellow Democrat Rep. Tom Sullivan, who lost his son in the Aurora theater massacre, opposed the repeal.

Twenty states have ended the death penalty. The Washington Supreme Court last year struck down that state’s capital punishment law, saying it was “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”

Last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, declared a moratorium on executions, with 737 prisoners on the state’s death row. California hasn’t carried out an execution since 2006.

Hickenlooper effectively did the same in 2013 when he said he would leave Dunlap’s execution to another governor while he opposed legislative efforts that year to outlaw the practice.

Polis joined governors of Oregon and Pennsylvania, both Democrats, who have said they support the repeal of capital punishment.

“I’ve been clear that if the legislature passed a bill to abolish the death penalty, I would sign it,” Polis said in a statement last month.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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