DENVER (AP) – Abolishing the death penalty in Colorado will get an initial vote in the state House on Tuesday, as debate on the issue begins in the Legislature.

There are three men on Colorado’s death row, but the bill would not affect them if it becomes law because it cannot apply to current cases. That means the case of the Aurora theater shooting suspect will also not be affected by the proposal.

The House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on the bill, and is expected to take a first vote on it.

The debate comes as Maryland is poised to become the 18th state in the country to repeal the death penalty. Lawmakers there approved a bill last week, and the governor is expected to sign it. Five other states have also abolished the death penalty in recent years.

In the Colorado bill, lawmakers call the death penalty “a failed public policy” and say “the dignity of human life should not be taken away, even in the case of a person who has committed a grave injustice.”

While the proposal would not affect any potential sentence for the suspect in the Aurora mass shooting, the case is still likely to hold a place in the debate as lawmakers’ decide whether to vote for doing away with capital punishment in the future.

Prosecutors are considering whether to pursue the death penalty against James Holmes, who is charged in the July 20 shooting that killed 12 people and injured 70 during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The personal stories of lawmakers will also play a role in the vote on the death penalty measure. Democratic Rep. John Buckner was the principal at the Aurora high school where the three men on death row attended at different times. Buckner said one of the reasons he opposes the death penalty is because of concerns that it disproportionately affects minorities.

The three men on death row – Nathan Dunlap, Robert Ray, and Sir Mario Owens – are black.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Lawmakers also say in the bill that “geography, rather than the seriousness of the offense or culpability of the defendant, determines whether a person charged with first degree murder will face a death penalty prosecution.”

Aurora Democrat Rhonda Fields’ son was gunned down at an intersection to stop him from testifying at a murder trial, and two of the men on death row – Ray and Owens – were convicted in the shooting.

Fields, a supporter of capital punishment, argues that voters should decide whether to repeal the death penalty and she’s introduced a countermeasure to put the question to voters.

The lawmaker carrying the bill in the Senate, Sen. Lucia Guzman, opposes the death penalty, even though her father was beaten to death decades ago. The case never resulted in the death penalty, but Guzman said she has never believed that punishment would “bring me any kind of release.”

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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