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Death Penalty Debate Back in Colorado

Death-penalty debate is back in Colorado. Credit: Andrejs Zemdega.
Death-penalty debate is back in Colorado. Credit: Andrejs Zemdega.
August 12, 2015

DENVER - Two high-profile murder cases have brought the death-penalty debate back to life in Colorado.

Days after James Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing 12 people at an Aurora movie theater, all eyes are on the sentencing of Dexter Lewis, who was found guilty in the deaths of five people in a Denver bar.

"The death penalty is an easy answer to an emotional wish for vengeance. But in reality, for survivors - and for the public at large, for taxpayers - it simply doesn't fill that emotional need; it actually can make it worse," said Jean Fredlund, legislative action committee chair at the League of Women Voters of Colorado, a group urging the governor and Legislature to abolish the death penalty.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement after the Holmes sentencing that "no verdict can bring back what survivors have lost." State Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, responded that Colorado should keep the death penalty option for, in his words, "crimes that call for the ultimate punishment."

Lewis, like Colorado's three men currently on death row, is black. Holmes is white. Fredlund pointed to racial disparities in death-penalty cases as one reason its opponents push for repeal. She added that the execution process is far more costly for taxpayers than life in prison, and noted that European Union nations and Canada abolished the death penalty as a violation of human rights.

"We have seen the mistakes over and over again, people who are on death row who have been found to have not been guilty," she said. "Once you make a mistake with the death penalty, you can't rectify it."

Fredlund, a psychiatric nurse and grief counselor, said survivors of murder victims tend to fare better when the perpetrators get life sentences. She explained that there are more complications to healing for survivors facing the decades-long death-penalty appeals process.

The last time Colorado considered repealing the death penalty was in 2013. After Hickenlooper voiced opposition to it, the bill never cleared committee.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO