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Rep. Rhonda Fields on push to repeal death penalty: "An insult to crime victims"

Representative Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, generally sides with liberal lawmakers in Colorado. But when it comes to a possible repeal of the death penalty, she is unwavering in her opposition. Getting rid of the death penalty would be an insult to crime victims and ill-timed given recent horrific tragedies, she says. And for Fields, it's personal: The man who killed her son is on death row.

As we reported yesterday, there is talk among legislators about a possible push to repeal the death penalty in the session that will begin next month. Efforts to get rid of the death penalty in the past have been unsuccessful, but there could be more support this time around.

Representative Rhonda Fields, right, at a news conference with Aurora and Columbine families last week.
Representative Rhonda Fields, right, at a news conference with Aurora and Columbine families last week.
Sam Levin

Boulder Representative Claire Levy is reportedly considering the legislation and, as we noted in our coverage yesterday, Representative Mark Ferrandino, the new Colorado Speaker of the House, says he remains supportive of a repeal initiative.

Fields, who led a press conference last week to call for gun reforms in the wake of the elementary school shooting in Connecticut, tells us she is upset about the new push for a repeal -- but that her colleagues are well aware of her stance. "It's a very insensitive thing to do in light of the recent tragedies our nation and state has experienced," says Fields, who was very active in the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting on July 20. "It sends the wrong message to the people in our state that no matter how horrible the crime is going to be in the state of Colorado in 2013...we have lawmakers who want to...remove the death penalty as an option for the DA. It's very disturbing to me. I think it's an insult to crime victims. I don't think the timing is right."

There are currently three inmates on death row in Colorado. Two of them are men responsible for killing Fields's son, Javad Marshall-Fields, in 2005. Marshall-Fields and his fiance, Vivian Wolfe, both 22 at the time, were killed in a hail of gunfire. He was a material witness in a murder case and had agreed to testify against Robert Ray, who was ultimately sentenced to death alongside his accomplice, Sir Mario Owens.

"It's a slap in the face," Fields says of a repeal. "For me, there are three people on death row and two of the people on death row are there for crimes committed against my son and his fiance."

Continue for more of our interview with Representative Rhonda Fields.

 

Even if a bill to repeal were not retroactive -- which means it would not affect the fate of the suspects in her son's case -- Fields says she is still worried that a removal of the death penalty would open the door to efforts that could impact those currently on death row.

Maisha Fields, daughter of Rhonda Fields, after speaking with survivors of the Aurora theater shooting.
Maisha Fields, daughter of Rhonda Fields, after speaking with survivors of the Aurora theater shooting.
Sam Levin

"Though the bill won't address [past crimes]...it doesn't say that it can't ever happen," she notes.

"I have made my position clear. It's not a secret," Fields adds. "Prior to being elected, I have gone down to the State Capitol with many other crime victims, sharing testimony on why we would like to see the death penalty stay on the books."

It can be tough at times to disagree with her colleagues on this, she says, but adds, "I'm a woman of principles and values. I'm gonna stand on that despite my party affiliation."

And she is worried that the measure may be more likely to pass this time. "It sounds like...several lawmakers feel like the time is now to move...because they think they have the margins to pass it," she notes.

She continues, "It just seems like every other day, we are hearing about someone taking a gun and harming other people, just snatching their lives suddenly and we are left to pick up the pieces. It doesn't seem like the right public safety measure to be taking now."

Those who support a repeal of the death penalty, like Levy, point out that it likely wouldn't apply to the perpetrators of recent horrific tragedies in Colorado; lawyers for James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, will push for an insanity defense and Austin Reed Sigg, who allegedly kidnapped and killed ten-year-old Jessica Ridgeway, is seventeen and too young to face the death penalty.

"She's absolutely right," Fields says of Levy's argument. "I think that the death penalty shouldn't be applied broadly. I think we should have strict standards...of laws that would qualify a case for the death penalty. If you are mentally ill, you are not eligible."

She adds, "That's what makes the death penalty an option that's not used that often."

The other argument in favor of a repeal is that the death penalty is expensive -- and that the money funneled into related litigation could be put to better use. "My view on that, is what cost do you put on justice?" Fields says. "I sat through the trials for two of them and they murdered my son. What price do you put on that? You can't put a price on that."

More from our Politics archive: "Straightforward Shooting sees huge surge of interest in gun classes after Connecticut tragedy"

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


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