By Stan Bush
DENVER (CBS4) – Seemingly running out of options, Colorado district attorneys are using over-the-top language to block two bills that are fast-tracking to the governor’s desk.
“Shame on you Legislature, shame on anyone voting on this bill,” said El Paso County District Attorney Dan May.
The Colorado District Attorney’s Council says Senate Bills 180 and 181 would give early release to juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. On Monday both bills easily cleared a voice vote in the Republican-controlled state Senate and have bipartisan support in the state House of Representatives.
The bills look to outlaw juvenile sentences for live without the possibility of parole and to build a system that would take their parole under consideration.
“These bills are reckless,” said 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. “There’s a lack of leadership taking place that allows these bills to take place.”
The bills follow a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that made such sentences unconstitutional. District attorneys say the bills undo justice. Brauchler says offenders like Terrance Wilder, who at 17 was the triggerman in a complicated murder-for-hire case, should never be set free.
“This is a bill that would work to put him in a position that in a very short period of time would put him on the streets,” said Brauchler.
Wilder killed 24-year-old preacher Joel England. He was arrested five days after the murder targeting another man. But the victim’s father, Gordon England, says after 17 years Wilder is a different man and deserves a chance to contribute to society.
“I believe he could make a successful re-entry and make a good contribution,” said England. “We think this is responsible and good justice.”
Forty-eight inmates serving life sentences without parole were juveniles when they were convicted, but supporters of the bills say only 15 would be eligible to actually get parole.
District attorneys say it would drastically alter sentences for the worst offenders, like Austin Sigg, who brutally murdered 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway. Sigg is serving a life sentence with an additional 86 years tacked on for aggravating factors in the crime. He would not be eligible for early release.
Carrie Thompson, policy director for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, says the district attorneys are using fear to try to stop the bill.
Thompson said to say that Sigg is going to get out is “that deliberate, intentional misinformation is trying to get the public to become fearful when it is in fact it’s based on a lie.”