Lawmakers reject bill to change Colorado death penalty law

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DENVER -- It's perhaps the most important decision in the criminal justice system — deciding whether to sentence a convicted murderer to death.

Colorado is no stranger to high-profile cases. Within the past few years, death penalty trials such as the James Holmes and Dexter Lewis trials have taken place.

Under current Colorado law, jurors can only impose a death sentence if the decision is unanimous.

In the Holmes and Lewis cases, the juries could not reach a unanimous verdict regarding death so both men received life sentences.

State Sen. Kevin Lundberg proposed a bill that would allow a death sentence if 11 of the 12 jurors agree.

"I believe Colorado's law when it comes to the death penalty doesn't function well," Lundberg said.

Lundberg originally proposed that nine of 12 jurors be able to deliver a death sentence, but he amended it at a Wednesday hearing.

Testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the bill was Tom Sullivan, who lost his son Alex at the Aurora theater mass shooting.

"A jury of his peers said that guy knew what he was doing when he murdered my son," Sullivan said. "I don't think a defense should be able to prove his case to just one."

But opponents have been vocal. A group of protesters held signs outside the Capitol on Wednesday promoting life, asking lawmakers to stop the spread of the death penalty.

"We have decided that jurors should be the moral compass in our state, in our nation when deciding the death penalty," said Doug Wilson, the state's public defender who is against the bill.

At the end of the hearing, which saw testimony from nearly a dozen opponents, a majority of lawmakers rejected the proposed change.

Afterward Sullivan said "the fight continues," indicating he is prepared to advocate for change in the future.

Other death penalty bills up for discussion this year include one that would allow another jury to be brought in if the first does not agree with the death penalty.