BOULDER, Colo. — With several high-profile trials set to unfold in Colorado this coming year, critics will likely say now is not the time to have a discussion on repealing the death penalty in the state.
But according to the Boulder Daily Camera, proponents of ending capital punishment say now is the perfect time.
“These are horrific crimes, but the death penalty will probably not be imposed,” Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder told the newspaper, speaking specifically about the Aurora theater shooting and the gruesome murder of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway. “If anything, it reinforces the notion that (the death penalty) is outmoded.
“Why do we have this law on the books if it doesn’t prevent these types of crimes?”
According to the Camera, Levy may bring a proposal before lawmakers in the coming year suggesting that the money saved from doing away with lengthy death-penalty litigation could instead go towards mental-heath or crime-prevention programs.
Such a proposal may pose a dilemma for conservative lawmakers, most of whom are in favor of retaining capital punishment but opposed to an increase in gun control.
How does gun control come into a debate on capital punishment?
With the cry for stricter gun legislation becoming louder in the wake of another horrendous crime, the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., many of those same conservative lawmakers have been advocating for an increase in mental-health programs as an alternative solution to gun control.
Levy’s potential plans could help pay for those mental-health programs. But if they were to support the funding of such programs using Levy’s suggested solution, it would mean giving up another conservative staple: capital punishment.
The question with Levy’s plan, however, may be the amount of money that could actually be redirected by doing away with death penalty litigation.
Colorado has not proven to be eager in its pursuit of the death penalty. According to the Camera, the state has executed one person since 1976, when capital punishment was reinstated.
There are currently three people on death row, and most don’t suspect that the trio will be joined by James Holmes or Austin Sigg.
Holmes, who is charged with killing 12 and injuring 58 others in an Aurora movie theater in July, is expected to plead not guilty by reason of mental illness. The 17-year-old Sigg, who confessed to the killing of Ridgeway in August, cannot be sentenced to death because of his age.
Regardless of the amount of funding Colorado could redirect by ending capital punishment, one Republican told the Camera that changes in the statehouses could make the coming year an “ideal time” to seek a repeal of the death penalty.
That Republican is Attorney General John Suthers, who referenced the fact that a similar proposal to end the death penalty in 2009 failed by just one vote.
One new-found ally for repeal advocates could be now-Senate President-elect John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, one of the four Democrats who helped defeat that 2009 proposal.
“I recognize that usually when you have an Aurora or a Columbine, you end up with somebody who’s so profoundly mentally ill that we really don’t have the death penalty as an option,” Morse told the newspaper. “If, in fact, it is introduced as a bill this year, I will struggle with it but likely will end up voting to repeal.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper could be a key player in the debate too.
While he has made his support of adding new mental health programs to the state budget in 2013 well known, he has not yet picked a side in the capital punishment debate.