Colorado becomes 22nd US state to abolish death penalty

Colorado District Attorney George Brauchler was among those criticizing the abolition of the death penalty in the state.
Colorado District Attorney George Brauchler was among those criticizing the abolition of the death penalty in the state.
Image: 123RF/zerbor

Colorado has abolished the death penalty, becoming the 22nd US state to repeal the punishment.

Governor Jared Polis on Monday signed a bill to repeal the death penalty and commuted the sentences of three men on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Polis said the commutations "of these despicable and guilty individuals are consistent with the abolition of the death penalty in the State of Colorado, and consistent with the recognition that the death penalty cannot be, and never has been, administered equitably in the State of Colorado."

Colorado has only carried out one execution since the death penalty was reinstated by the US Supreme Court in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Gary Lee Davis was put to death in 1997 by lethal injection for the 1986 rape and murder of a neighbor.

Colorado lawmakers in February approved the bill to repeal the death penalty, overcoming fierce opposition from Republicans who tried to stall the vote, including by reading from the Bible.

"While I understand that some victims agree with my decision and others disagree, I hope this decision provides clarity and certainty for them moving forward," Polis said in a statement.

"The decision to commute these sentences was made to reflect what is now Colorado law, and done after a thorough outreach process to the victims and their families."

Colorado District Attorney George Brauchler was among those criticizing the abolition.

"There are a few in Colorado today who will cheer the sparing of the lives of these cold-blooded murderers," he said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other death penalty abolitionists welcomed the move.

"In all the madness we are living under, here is some terrific news. Colorado has now officially abolished the death penalty," ACLU justice division director Udi Ofer said on Twitter.

"While we still need to get death row cleared, CO (Colorado) will no longer kill people as punishment," Ofer said.

"Alleluia! I'm celebrating the citizen activists of Colorado who ... steadily changed hearts and minds to arrive at this life-affirming day," anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean tweeted.

States around the US have been re-examining their use of the death penalty.

New Hampshire abolished it completely in 2019 and California's governor last year declared a moratorium on executions as long as he is in office.

"Colorado's action exemplifies the trend we are seeing in states across the country, which is a continuing movement away from capital punishment, first in practice, then in law," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

"That is not a surprise. Public support for capital punishment has been thinning and is near a generation low. America's views of criminal justice have experienced a sea change and in state legislatures, the issue has become increasingly bipartisan."

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