By Abby Williams
The 11-hour Colorado House debate on Tuesday Feb. 25 resulted in the passage of Senate Bill 20-100 on a 38-27 vote. The bill was sent to Gov. Jared Polis’s office, where it is currently awaiting either veto or (as is expected) signature into law. The success of this bill overcomes a history of numerous Coloradanrepeal failures in recent years — 22 other states have successfully repealed the death penalty.
SB 20-100, the act to repeal the death penalty, will repeal capital punishment for charges on or after July 1, 2020. Capital punishment was limited to class one felonies; starting July 1, the only possible sentence for a class one felony is life in prison. The bill’s primary sponsors, Democratic Sen. Julie Gonzales and Republican Sen. Jack Tate, came from both sides of the political aisle. Tate was one of three Republican senators to support the bill in the Senate, granting it enough of a lead to clear the Senate and advance to Polis’ office.
Currently, three men are on death row in Colorado: Nathan Dunlap, Sir Mario Owens, and Robert Ray. All three men are black and attended Aurora High School. According to the ACLU of Colorado, people of color in the 18th Judicial District, which includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, and Lincoln County, are 14 times more likely to face the death penalty than white people.
Dunlap, Owens, and Ray lived in solitary confinement, in Colorado’s “supermax” State Penitentiary in Cañon City, Colo., and were individually transferred to Sterling Correctional Facility. Gov. Polis has the ability to grant them clemency. “All clemency requests are weighty decisions that the Governor will judge on their individual merits,” Polis spokesman Conor Cahill told Time Magazine.
Previous Governor John Hickenlooper placed an indefinite stay on the execution of Dunlap, who was scheduled to be executed August 2013.
“If the State of Colorado is going to undertake the responsibility of executing a human being, the system must operate flawlessly,” stated Hickenlooper in 2013. “Colorado’s system for capital punishment is not flawless.”
The Senate had previously approved the legislation on Jan. 30. Vocal opposition to the repeal in the Senate came from Democratic Sen. Ronda Fields, whose son, Javad Marshall-Fields, was killed by Owens and Ray. Her opposition sank the bill last year in the Senate. Despite opposing stances, Gonzales thanked Fields for putting her whole self to the debate: “Even when we disagree,” Gonzales said, “we treat each other with dignity and respect, that is when this chamber does our best work.”
According to Denver Channel 7, Colorado Springs Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, argued for the repeal, stating that the death penalty is a “constitutional infirm” on Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
The votes on SB 20-100 from Colorado Springs legislators broke down as follows:
Rep. Shane Sandridge: No
Rep. Larry Liston: No
Rep. Dave Williams: No
Dem. Tony Exum: Yes
Dem. Mark Snyder: Yes
Rep. Terri Carver: No
Dem. Pete Lee: Yes
Rep. Owen Hill: Yes
Rep. Bob Gardner: No
Rep. Paul Lundeen: No