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Death penalty: Representative Claire Levy says she is confident a repeal could pass

Before Representative Claire Levy proposes legislation to repeal the death penalty in Colorado, she wants to be sure that it can pass.

And after more discussions with her fellow lawmakers on the topic, she says it seems like the momentum is right to get rid of the death penalty -- even if one of her Democratic colleagues is adamantly opposed to the move.

"I can't say with certainty...but I'm getting more confident," Levy says. "Those of us who are sponsoring it want to be sure we are going to be able to pass it before we introduce it. We are getting in confident in that."

At a pre-legislative forum in December, reporters asked the leaders of the Colorado General Assembly whether it was likely that a proposal to repeal the death penalty would be considered this year. At the time, Democrats said it was a possibility and John Morse, the new president of the Senate, revealed that he would likely support a repeal, which he has opposed in the past.

And though the new legislative session hasn't yet begun, the possibility of a death penalty repeal has since gotten more attention, most recently with reports that Levy, a Democrat who represents Boulder, is exploring the potential for a bill.

Representative Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, told us last week that she has been and will remain strongly opposed to any efforts to get rid of the death penalty, calling the proposal "an insult to crime victims." For Fields, it is very personal: Two of the three inmates on death row in Colorado were responsible for the death of her son in 2005.

Rhonda Fields, right, at a recent press conference about the Aurora theater shooting.
Rhonda Fields, right, at a recent press conference about the Aurora theater shooting.
Sam Levin

"There's nothing that can undo what happened to her son," Levy says of Fields's concerns. "I'm a mother. I think I have some inkling of how painful it would be to lose your son to violence, but I think it's my obligation as a state representative to have our laws reflect what I believe are the current standards of decency and humanity in this country."

Levy points out that seventeen states currently do not have the death penalty, and says the time has come for Colorado to join the ranks.

"We have increasing concerns about the possibility of executing an innocent person," says Levy, adding, "The data is overwhelming that it is not applied in an objective, consistent and fair way.... It's applied inconsistently and arbitrarily."

Levy says her repeal proposal would mean that convicted criminals could be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. "We want to be sure that it's very clear to the public and other legislators that [criminals]...could be sentenced to die in prison," she says, noting that no one on death row who was convicted and sentenced would have their sentence retroactively changed.

"At some point," she continues, "you have to ask the question, to what extent are we going to go to execute people when we have an alternative, i.e. life in prison, that keeps the public safe? It prevents the person from ever walking free.... Why go to the extent we are going to execute someone?"

Supporters have pointed out that some of the worst criminals, such as Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes, are often exempt from the death penalty anyway, due to insanity determinations. And another argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty is that it is expensive to keep inmates on death row -- and that the money could be put to better use.

Levy is using all these arguments as she explores the possibility of pushing the proposal. "The time is right," she says.

More from our Politics archive: "Rep. Lois Court: Fees for gun background checks could help fund mental health services"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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