DENVER (CBS4) – In 1859, Colorado carried out its first execution. In 2020, the state legislature is poised to repeal the death penalty.
Opponents of capitol punishment have introduced six bills in 12 years, but this year they say they have the votes – on both sides of the aisle – to pass a bill abolishing it.
Family members of two law enforcement officers were among those who testified at the bill’s first hearing. Jim Gumm says his son would have wanted him to speak-up.
The hearing comes almost two years to the day when Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm was shot and killed in the line of duty.
The bill would almost certainly take the death penalty off the table in his case.
“People will say that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, but basically my life for the last two years has been cruel and unusual punishment and will be to the day I die,” Gumm said.
Gail Rice’s brother – Denver Police Officer Bruce VanderJagt – was also shot and killed in the line of duty.
“In a death penalty case, you go through hell as a murder victim’s family member.”
VanderJagt’s killer was eligible for the death penalty, but committed suicide. Rice opposes capitol punishment.
“It cuts off the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation and redemption that is at the heart of my Christian faith,” she said.
Gumm says voters – not lawmakers – should decide whether to get rid of the death penalty.
“We let them make the decision as a jury what penalty to use so it should be up to the people to determine what penalties are available.”
Prosecutors are also divided. Denver District Attorney Beth McCann says the state shouldn’t be in the business of killing people.
“The punishment for this kind of crime is automatic life without parole. People sentenced to life without parole will die in prison. The only reason to seek the death penalty is to hasten the death.”
But Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler – who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooter – says all murders are not the same.
“They will essentially have lowered the bar for potential punishment for child murderers, for people who seek to kill a judge or a witness to avoid responsibility for mass murder, acts of terrorism, mass murderers, serial murderers. They will have lowered the bar for all of those and ensured that every single murder in the state of Colorado from this day to eternity will go to trial.”
He says suspects will now have nothing to lose by going to trial.
The bill is not retroactive, but Gov. Jared Polis has said if the legislature repeals the death penalty, he will commute the sentences of the three men currently on death row, all of whom are African American.
Opponents of capitol punishment argue black men are more likely to be put to death, but according to analysis by CBS4’s partner The Colorado Sun almost half of those executed in Colorado have been white.