Lawmakers Considering Death Penalty Repeal Hear Emotional Testimony
DENVER (AP) – A man urging Colorado lawmakers to abolish capital punishment lifted a container holding some of his son’s ashes Tuesday and said the death penalty would not bring his son justice.
“My son’s life was about love and life … so please don’t saddle my son’s name with the death penalty,” said Bob Autobee, whose son Eric was a corrections officer who was beaten to death in 2002 by an inmate.
Lawmakers heard about nine hours of emotional testimony on the proposal, but delayed a vote Tuesday evening in the House Judiciary Committee. Some of those who testified argued the sentence is unfair and ineffective, while others called it a just punishment.
Moments after Autobee spoke, Maisha Fields-Pollard, whose mother serves in the Colorado Legislature, told lawmakers about her brother, Javad Marshall-Fields, who was gunned down along with his fiancee to prevent him from testifying at a murder trial.
“Today I sit before you asking you to not put the justice of my brother at risk,” Fields-Pollard said.
Three men are currently on Colorado’s death row, including the two convicted in the deaths of Marshall-Fields and his fiancee. 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 also would not be affected by the proposal. 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.”
Fields-Pollard brought up the mass shooting during her testimony.
“Their justice has yet to be rendered, and we must protect it,” she said.
Fields-Pollard’s mother is Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields, who represents Aurora and began her political career after the death of her son Javad. Fields, a supporter of capital punishment, is proposing a bill to let voters decide whether to repeal the death penalty.
The debate in Colorado 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 also have abolished the death penalty in recent years.
The personal stories of Colorado lawmakers also will 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.
If the measure before the House Judiciary Committee passes the initial vote, it still must be approved by the entire House.
Lawmakers 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.”
Dunlap, convicted of killing four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese, has exhausted his appeals and an execution date could soon be set.
Some district attorneys who testified against repealing the death penalty argued the punishment is a tool they use to pursue justice. They said that it should be up to voters, not legislators, to decide whether to eliminate capital punishment.
- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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