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Bill to abolish death penalty passes House; Senate's next

A bill to abolish the death penalty in Colorado passed the House by a single vote today.

HB 1274, which would use the cost savings of eliminating the death penalty to fund a cold case unit, is on its way to the state Senate. The vote was 33-32, just as close as a preliminary vote last Thursday, which came in at 31-30.

Howard Morton, executive director of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, has long been advocating the bill as a way to trade vengeance for justice. His organization, along with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, thanks to state funding FOHVAMP lobbied for, has documented and created a database of more than 1,400 unsolved murders in the state. The bill would take the savings from ending the death penalty -- an estimated $2 million at the state level and another $2.5 million locally, even though Colorado has only executed one person in the last thirty years -- and use it to fund a team of investigators to tackle those cases.

"This is a very heartening development, not only for the families of these victims whose killers have never been prosecuted, but also for all the Coloradoans who live in the communities that have been terrorized by the realization that we have killers walking among us and murderers living in our neighborhoods," he said in statement. "This vote by the House sends the strong message that we will no longer take a passive approach to old, unsolved murders. Colorado now intends to be proactive in going after these killers."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Weissmann, has already made it farther than the 2007 version, which died on the House floor, and Morton says his goal is to get it to the Governor's desk. If that happens, former district attorney Bill Ritter would be faced with a difficult decision, as the bill is strongly opposed by Attorney General John Suthers and district attorneys.

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