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January 30, 2009 01:01 AM UTC

Colorado Death Penalty Targeted; Political Fight Looms

  • by: Haners

( – promoted by redstateblues)

State house Majority Leader Paul Weissmann (D) is planning to file a bill next week that would abolish the state’s death penalty and use the savings to investigate cold cases.…

If the bill advances, the Post points out that there is a high probability that it will ignite a full out political fight and put Ritter in a tough position.

Poll follows

Ritter is likely to draw fire from all sides over the issue.

Analysts say his bona fides as a moderate Democrat with across-the-aisle appeal could take a hit with the 2010 election looming should he support abolishing the death penalty.

This looks to be the beginning of a nasty political fight that will pit the Democrat’s left wing against their own moderate wing and Republicans.

If true, this poses a few questions:

1)  With the issues currently facing the state, is picking a fight over abolishing the death penalty really a good use of time?

2)  Why would Weissmann file a bill that is going to put his Governor in a tight spot and force him to piss off someone.

How do you feel about the death penalty

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35 thoughts on “Colorado Death Penalty Targeted; Political Fight Looms

  1. Since the death penalty was re-instated.

    I think that says a lot about the cost of keeping people on death row for years and years. With the current system’s set of appeal after appeal, the taxpayers are the ones who are really paying the price of the state killing people. That coupled with the fact that it’s not that great of a deterrent, and the statistics showing that it’s a racist institution, lead me to be pro-moratorium.

    Your second point about the legislature putting Ritter in an awkward position with only 20 months to go is great though. Personally, I’m opposed to the death penalty, but it seems like it would give the Republicans a good wedge issue to hammer on for a while.

    If this were to go forward, I don’t think that it would be that much of a distraction–unless the media decided to make it the hot button issue. The legislature, as well as the Governor, can have multiple things on their plate while still focusing the majority of their time and legislation on the economy.

    Either way, is it really that bad to have the conversation? The discussion could lead to a better understanding of why we have the death penalty here, and whether or not it’s really cost effective.

    1. considering the ridiculous expenditure vs results it represents, if for no other reason. Also, unlike some states, we do have true life without parole.   But it’s one of those third rail things, particularly toxic for Dem pols in a state like Colorado. No  Dem from a less than air tight safe district is going to be enthusuastic about signing on to it.

  2.   I’m pretty sure someone tried this before as recently as a couple of years ago, and it never got out of committee. I don’t see why Ritter would ever have to address this.

  3. 1) With the issues facing the state, is picking a fight over abolishing the death penalty really a good use of time? Yes. Never stop advocating for good policy just because there are other important issues being discussed. We should be able to chew gum and walk at the same time. The death penalty is wrong. Can you imagine how many INNOCENT people have been put to death prior to DNA and during the segregated south for example? Even if there is 100% chance of guilt. Why put the monsters to death and give them an easy way out. Hard labor is the answer not the death penalty.

    2) Vote the right way so you can look at yourself in the mirror and don’t worry about pissing someone off. Abolish the death penalty.

  4. There are some new faces under the dome, and the pressure to save money in any way possible is greater now than it was a year ago, but I’m not sure that this changes the politics of the bill that much.

    The DA’s lobby is often willing to be flexible about prospective sentencing, but is always vehemently opposed to bills that amount to legislative clemency.

    Colorado currently has three men in the system who have been sentenced to death and could still receive that sentence.  One is the Chuckie Cheese multiple murderer, whose appeals are close to running out.  One is a death penalty volunteer who killed a prison worker while on kitchen duty and was guilty over his role in killing a family member; his case was remanded to the trial court for resentencing after a direct appeal by the public defender of his sentence but could still receive the death penalty upon a rehearing.  The most recent arrival is Sir Mario Owen, who was convicted of killing a witness in another criminal case; his case is now on direct appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

    Colorado is far more rigorous in the due process it applies in death penalty cases than states like Texas and Oklahoma, that produce executions at a much greater rate.  Also, while Colorado’s death penalty statute allows the death penalty to be imposed in a variety of relatively less culpable situations (such as of people who are not triggermen but are co-conspirators in a robbery or kidnapping), Colorado District Attorneys have sought, and Colorado juries have imposed the death penalty sparingly.  All three men on Colorado’s death row would be eligible for this sentence under the statutes of any state in the Union that authorizes the death penalty, and all three are cases where there doubt about guilt, as opposed to punishment, is negligible.

    Of course there is always the possibility that a District Attorney like Carol Chambers, who seeks the death penalty more often than every other jurisdiction in Colorado combined, will continue to show the good judgment that other DAs have shown on this issue.  A prospective repeal of the death penalty in the state may have merit for this reason, because it is a very expensive criminal punishment to impose compared to the alternative of a life without parole sentence.

    The harder and more fiscally important question for Governor Ritter and the General Assembly is the extent to which everyone in the growing ranks of people serving life sentences in Colorado (many without possibility of parole), particularly juveniles, have appropriately received this heaviest of penalties short of the death penalty.  This penalty has been imposed in many cases far, far less culpable than any of Colorado cases where the death penalty has been imposed.

  5. of my party, but I strongly support the death penalty and, in fact, would advocate for expanding its usage to include other crimes.  Rape, child abuse (sexual and/or physcial) and elder abuse would all be candidates for the death penalty were I to have my way.

    Granted, there are problems with the way it has been implemented and they need to be addressed…but there is no reason to toss the whole system out.

    Hopefully this bill will die in the legislature and if it doesn’t, I hope Ritter vetos it…

    1. While the death penalty is not exclusively limited to cases where someone is murdered, the only exceptions that are “crimes against the state” like treason or espionage, where there is a strong presumption that death is likely to result, and possibly, kidnapping cases where the victim has never been located, where the presumption is strong that a murder actually did take place but cannot be proved due to the murderer’s own acts.

        1. What do you think about mentally disabled or insane criminals?

          BTW, I agree on the rape bit, particularly children.  I don’t believe you can be rehabilitated if that’s your bag, those people are even a significant danger to the rest of the prison population.  Not like you can accidentally perform a violent rape and leave your DNA in horrifying wounds.

          1. someone for being ill.  

            Punishing a mentally ill person who commits a crime as a result of their illness is like punishing a child who has the flu for throwing up on you in the same manner that you would punish a child who throws up on you when they deliberately stick their finger down their throat and force themselves to throw up.

    2. Check out the debate last year, it’s interesting.  I’m death penalty ambivalent, leaning toward go for it, I believe even Romanoff fully supports it.

      One point that almost everyone does agree on, is that there are too many attorneys working on the death penalty stuff (forget what they call the department).  

      Weissmann has also tried to take some of the money out and give it to the cold case squad.  IIRC, that came closer to passing, but the GOP freaked out because there aren’t that many high-profile cold cases.

      Story on shrinking the team: http://www.rockymountainnews.c

      I can’t find the Romanoff source, but he did vote no on the shrinking bill.

    3. Some horrendous murders call for its use.  The DA’s don’t use it very often.  It’s not like we’re Texas where they execute a person a week.  There are 2 people on death row in Colorado and both deserve it.

    4. Granted, there are problems with the way it has been implemented and they need to be addressed…but there is no reason to toss the whole system out.

      If killing innocent people isn’t enough to convince you that the death penalty be abolished then I guess nothing will.

      Issues with implementation is putting a pretty nice spin on it. What you mean to say is that we kill innocent people. This seems like an instance where speaking without euphemisms and bureaucratic niceties is appropriate.  

  6. Getting rid of the death penalty is good on policy terms…but why reinvest the savings rather than use it to get out of the budget hole? It seems to weaken whatever political side-argument that might be made.

    Can we decriminalize pot in order to save money while we are at it?

    I like the idea of using a bad budget time to push through good, unpopular policies that save us money. I mean…all policies that battle budget deficits are unpopular. No one likes getting less from the government or paying more.

  7. This tired old tactic has resurfaced.  Death penalty opponents work as hard as they can to make the imposition of the penalty as difficult and costly as possible.

    Then they turn around and say because it is too difficult and costly, we should abolish it.

    Why do people fall for this?

  8. 1. Given the imperfections of our justice system, the death penalty cannot be administered fairly ( I would submit that had OJ Simpson been some poor black guy from Watts defended by a public defender at his murder trial, he would have been convicted)

    2. As a libertarian (with a small l), I fear the power of a state that claims the right to kill its own citizens.

    Let’s just do away with this dog and pony show once and for all and move on to bigger and better things, like prosecuting Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld for their war crimes.  

    1. including prosecuting a former adminstration that is no longer in power, or worrying about the death penalty.

      1. Given the inherent biases of both our class system, and nationalistic posturing, we are killing thousands of people every day just as directly as we (individuals) are killing these people on death row, so why do these likely murderers get preferential treatment?

      2. The state has always claimed this right and even if it didn’t it still claims the right to prosecute those that violate their contract with the state.

      and…. 3, 2, 1: shift back to things that matter.

        1. exactly the same thing (sarcasm).

          Every country claims that right, whether or not they have the death penalty, government still kills people to protect itself.

  9. there is always only one underlying question to be answered: What policy best serves human welfare? Not what policy is more fair, or how much or how little sympathy what kinds of people deserve, or what the state does and does not have the “right” to do, but, simply, what is in our collective best interest? In this case, I think it would be fair to define “human welfare” as a reduction in victimization by violent crime.

    So the question becomes, does the death penalty serve this function? The national statistical evidence is not conclusive: Some studies show a slight deterent effect, and some show a slight exacerbation effect. But cross-national studies, which are complicated by the fact that we are looking at entire cultural packages rather than some cause-and-effect relationship, are much more suggestive of an exacerbation effect.

    From a dynamical systems perspective, I think it’s clear that there is more of an exacerbation effect than deterence effect. Capital punishment is part of a cultural complex which legitimizes and celebrates violence. People are, reasonably enough, so enraged by violent crimes, especially against defenseless and innocent children, that their reaction is often supportive of vengeful violence. The underlying emotional and moral justification is that if someone does something horrible enough, then they deserve to die. After all, people who do horrible, viscious things make us really, really mad.

    So, if we are really, really mad at someone, then it is okay for us collectively, through the agency of the state, to kill that person as an expression of our rage.

    Most violent crime, of course, isn’t pedaphilia, but rather the outcome of the escalation of an angry encounter between two acquaintances. And such outcomes are, unsurprisingly, more common in societies that institutionalize violent expression of collective anger.

    The most disgusting crimes that most excite the passions of wanting to execute the perpetrator are not crimes that are deterred by such means. They are truly obsessive behaviors that the perpetrators find themselves unable to control. Such crimes are less frequent in more communal societies, and more frequent in more individualistic societies because in more communal societies there is more awareness of each other’s tendencies, and more proactive intervention to control those tendencies through a combination of support and vigilance.

    If you really want to make America a less violent society, then a good start would be to eliminate the institutionalized legitimization of revenge killing.

  10. 2)  Why would Weissmann file a bill that is going to put his Governor in a tight spot and force him to piss off someone ?.

    Paul Weissman of course knows this is a political issue which is what that question addresses, but more importantly to him its a moral and ethical issue. That’s why.

    I barely know Paul Weissman having met him only once, but I had some dealings with his late sister Ruth Schrichte when she was a Trustee for the town of Erie, and “doing the right thing” was more important to her than political expediency. Obviously character runs in the family. That’s why.  

  11. It’s amazing to me that the people who claim to most love Jesus are the most rabid pro-death penalty folks.

    I used to believe in the DP.  Then one day I was reading an interview with a man who lost a daughter in the OK City bombing. McVeigh was up for execution.  This man took the time to find and spend time with McVeigh’s father. He observed that he has lost his daughter and now that man was going to lose his son.

    He described himself as an ordinary simple Catholic.  When I read his rhetorical question, “Would Jesus pull the switch?” I saw the light (pun intended.)

    Even the victim’s families discover that the execution did nothing for their pain.

    As a deterrent, Ha!  “Yo Bubba, dude!  You know if we rape that little girl we gonna get the firing squad!”  “Holy shit Billy Bob!  Sure glad you thought of that before we went and done sumpin stupid!”  

    Virtually every other civilized country has outlawed the DP (notice that they typically have universal health care, too.) They and the states w/o the DP have crime rates no worse than those with.

    Frankly, if I were given the choice of death or life in prison, I’d go with the DP.

    1. actually stems from the theory behind.  Do you see it as a deterrent, punishment, retribution, or for the un-rehabilitable.

      My opinions on the above for anyone willing to slog through:

      Deterrent – I don’t buy that either.  If you steal and worry about getting caught, the actual punishment isn’t what you’re worried about.  I don’t think we ever get over the… everyone here probably stole a candy bar or something from a store when they were five or so.  I was worried about what my mom and the manager would think, so worried that I didn’t eat the stupid candy.  It never crossed my mind what the punishment would be.

      Punishment in general – let them sit in a square all day.  OK, but introducing some real torture is, well, torture and not allowable.  Depending on age and activeness prison isn’t that awful.  At least not as awful as being tied up and literally tortured for a week or two before being dismembered.

      Retribution – I agree that nothing is going to bring your loved one back.  People do have strange ideas about it though.  Consider how outraged a family is when an accused is cleared, they get mad at the innocent person.  Wouldn’t the right person mean more than the wrong?  Clearly victims’ families aren’t rational about these things.

      Finally, the group I believe should be eligible for the DP, the career murderers.  Anyone can screw up, murder seems far, but I suppose these things happen.  Having a loaded gun and shooting a cop (horrible, awful) is something that can be done in a single, stupid life ending moment.  sir Mario Owens didn’t have a stupid night, he planned and planned again.  This guy was never going to stop taking lives.  Probably would in prison, too.  Explain to me what good it is to have some guy living on our collective dime, absolutely ready to kill any one of us that got in his way.  This guy kills and doesn’t care.  Taking away a right means you are no longer entitled to that right.  Habitually taking away our most precious right has to have a like consequence.

      1. And the reason that is really behind the other arguments.  Can’t say I don’t understand it, but if we are adults and civilized, surely we can set it aside for life in prison.  

        Now there’s something worse than death!

        (BTW, I was a guest in the Colorado Women’s Prison in Canon City once as part of an educational program.  Having been duly told how terrible prison life is, I saw the opposite.  Other than you coldn’t walk out when you wanted and lived on the prison’s schedule, it was probably a much better environment than most of these women came from.  Clean, classes to get ahead, computers, religious freedom of all stripes with encouragement of the administration, real food.  Not bad at all.)

      2. “living on our collective dime:”

        It’s more expensive to execute him that incarcerate him for life, and given the reality of Constitutional interpretation and stare decisis, that’s not going to change in the foreseeable future. So if you’re looking for the cheapest way to dispose of the creep, a life sentence without possibility of parole is it.

        “Explain to me what good it is:”

        “What good it is” is that it avoids a bad alternative. If, as I believe and have argued, capital punishment actually INCREASES rather than decreases or has no effect on violent crime rates, then what is good about abolishing capital punishment is that it reduces violent crime rates, and saves some number of would-be future victims from ever becoming victims.

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