Colorado Senate rejects death penalty ban
DENVER Opponents of the death penalty hope to revive a bill that would end capital punishment and use the money saved to investigate cold cases.The bill was overhauled on Monday in the Senate, where lawmakers agreed after two hours of debate to take out all references to the death penalty and impose a series of new fees to fund investigations of unsolved murders instead.It was expected to pass another vote there on Tuesday. Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said she hopes she can convince members in the House, where the bill started, to put the death penalty ban back in. If they do, the bill would have to come back for another vote in the Senate, where five Democrats voted with Republicans to take the death penalty out of the bill.Carroll was caught off guard by the 10-page change offered by Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, after she delivered a speech in favor of her bill. She said the amendment gave lawmakers who were planning to support the original bill an “offramp” to avoid voting on the death penalty itself.”This is an important piece of legislation that has been in the works for years, so I think an amendment of the fly is not the way to go,” she said.The amended bill would impose a $2.50 fine on traffic tickets, criminal convictions and citations issued by the Division of Wildlife. Morse said that would raise about $1 million a year to be distributed to local police agencies to investigate cold cases.The original bill would have used savings from the death penalty to expand a one-person, statewide cold case unit and Carroll said local agencies without cold case units wouldn’t be able to use the new money raised by the fees.Morse, a former police chief, said he was “struggling mightily” with the bill as a whole and thought local agencies were in a better position to solve cold cases because of their familiarity with their communities.Morse said he crafted the change on the floor after consulting with the Senate Republican leader, Sen. Josh Penry, because he said there didn’t seem to be enough votes to pass the bill with the death penalty ban in it. Morse recounted some of the murder cases he investigated as a police officer during the debate and later said that he wasn’t sure how he would have voted had the death penalty remained in the bill.The bill has been backed by an alliance of families of murder victims, who mainly want money to solve cold cases, and civil liberties and church groups, who are opposed to the death penalty. The change stunned them and some of the death penalty opponents initially accused the family group of selling them out right after the vote.As they learned more about the amendment and how it was crafted, the groups later reconciled.Howard Morton, executive director of Families of Homicide Victims & Missing Persons, at first said he was happy to have some money for cold cases. Later, he said a beefed up statewide unit is needed to help communities that don’t have their own cold case units.June Menger of Longmont, another member of Morton’s group, said she wanted to see both the death penalty abolished and cold cases funded.She said her son was murdered in 1983 and that she wanted someone executed for that so badly that she said she would have pushed the button herself. Since then, she said she has come to oppose capital punishment for a range of reasons, including its cost and errors that have been made.”I would hope that they would put this bill back together,” she said.
Associated Press writer Steven K. Paulson contributed to this report.
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