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Colorado Lawmakers Debate Banning Death Penalty

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Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

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DENVER (CBS4)- Lawmakers in Colorado continue to debate whether to ban the death penalty.

Colorado has three men on death row; Sir Mario Owens, Robert Ray and Nathan Dunlap.

Governor John Hickenlooper said he has agonized over the debate. Although he has long been a proponent of the death penalty, he said the arguments are compelling.

Representative Rhonda Fields’ son was murdered by two of the men on death row, Owens and Ray. Fields is introducing a bill that would let voters decide.

Before she was a state lawmaker, a Democrat representing Aurora, Fields was a single mother fighting for justice in her son’s murder.

“This case is about murder, it’s about justice and it’s about the penalty,” said Fields.

“I will never be whole because of crimes committed against me and my family.”

As members of her own party push to repeal the death penalty, Fields is introducing a different bill, one that would put the decision to Colorado voters.

“When you think about heinous crimes going on now, the Aurora shooting happened in Arapahoe County where the DA is considering the death penalty, I think we’re sending the wrong message to say we’re going to repeal that option right now.”

Rep. Clair Levy is sponsoring a bill asking lawmakers to repeal the death penalty.

“Could there be another Aurora shooting? Unfortunately there could be and having the death penalty on the books won’t deter it,” said Levy, a Democrat representing Boulder.

Levy argued the penalty is applied arbitrarily and inconsistently and doesn’t serve as a deterrent. She believes sending the issue to voters simply invites an inflammatory debate.

“It’s not about retribution, personal score settling, it’s about society meeting the appropriate punishment for taking a life of another,” said Levy.

Levy believes life without parole is appropriate.

Hickenlooper isn’t so sure, “I’ll bet you there’s not a week that goes by that at least one night I think about it because it’s one of the toughest issues out there.”

When asked if voters would repeal the death penalty, Fields replied, “Move on, then we move on. If they say they don’t want the death penalty in the state of Colorado that’s something we’ll all have to live with.”

Levy said her bill does not impact those already on death row and would not apply to cold cases, either.

A decision by voters in regards to the death penalty would trump any decision by lawmakers.

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