Colorados death penalty debate goes down to wire

Colleen SlevinThe Associated PressAspen, CO Colorado

DENVER The fight over a proposal to abolish the death penalty in Colorado is going down to the wire.State lawmakers plan to meet this morning, the final day of the legislative session, to decide whether to revive a bill that originally would have ended the death penalty and used the savings to fund a statewide cold case unit.That bill unraveled this week in the Senate where lawmakers voted to scrap the death penalty ban and instead impose a series of new fees to fund investigations of unsolved cases.The original bill is sponsored by Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Boulder, and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, both strong opponents of the death penalty. They expect the conference committee appointed by House and Senate leaders to work out the differences between the chambers will recommend putting the death penalty ban back in the bill. They think the fines to fund cold cases mainly on the local level could also be included.The debate isnt over. This bill isnt over, Carroll said.That strategy is a gamble because tying cold case funding to the death penalty ban means a broad coalition of supporters could end up with neither. The bill has been backed by families of murder victims whose cases remain unsolved, as well as defense attorneys, civil rights groups and religious groups.Howard Morton, executive director of Families of Homicide Victims & Missing Persons, said he backed the plan and thought a death penalty ban could still pass before lawmakers adjourned for the year.I believe theres always hope, said Morton, whose eldest son was killed at age 18 more than 30 years ago. The teens killer has not been found.Any version of the bill backed by the conference committee would still have to go back to both the House and Senate for a vote. Carroll acknowledged that could mean another cliffhanger vote.The original bill passed the House by just one vote last month. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, agonized for nearly a minute as the rest of the chamber watched before he pushed his green button to vote yes.In the Senate, Democratic Sen. John Morse, a former police chief, offered a surprise amendment after two hours of debate. It imposed new fees on traffic tickets, criminal convictions and park and wildlife citations which he said would be used to give grants to local law enforcement agencies to solve cold cases.He persuaded four other Democrats and all Republicans in the chamber to vote with him. At least two of those lawmakers would have to change their minds for a bill with a death penalty ban in it to pass.Even if that happens, Gov. Bill Ritter hasnt said whether he would sign the bill. The Democrat unsuccessfully sought the death penalty as Denvers district attorney.The ban is opposed by both Attorney General John Suthers and the Colorado District Attorneys Council, although one member, Pueblo County District Attorney Bill Thiebaut, supports it.


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