Death Penalty Repeal Fails, Bill Will Be Reintroduced Next Year

Capital punishment will remain on the books in Colorado for at least another year following the death penalty repeal bill's unexpected demise in the state legislature.

On Tuesday, April 2, Senator Julie Gonzales, one of the bill's prime sponsors, announced that she was postponing consideration of the bill until next year's legislative session. It was an odd turn of events at a time when Colorado's political makeup, a fully Democratic legislature and an abolitionist governor seemed to create the perfect environment for repealing the death penalty. But things got complicated as soon as the bill was introduced early last month, Gonzales says.

"I honestly feel that it was better for us to start over and do this process right. I think we’re all clear on what the policy solution is. The question is how do we improve that process," says Gonzales, referring to the bill's rollout.

Senator Rhonda Fields, a fellow Democrat, has been an outspoken opponent of both the bill and what she characterizes as an overly rushed introduction of it, arguing that she and other family members of murder victims weren't given enough time to provide input. Fields's son, Javad Marshall Fields, and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, were murdered by two men currently sitting on death row. (Governor Jared Polis has said that he will alter the sentences of all three men currently on death row to life without parole.)

"There were lots of critiques and concerns coming from my colleagues around the initial rollout of this bill. And they were critiques that I didn’t agree with or understand, but that I had to ultimately accept," says Gonzales.

Gonzales says that her Senate colleagues latched onto criticisms of the bill's rollout in order to not have to take a position on it. "It gave them something to hide behind."

Denise Maes, public-policy director at the ACLU of Colorado, expresses frustration over the bill's demise.

"It's a little baffling to me why they needed to hide behind some statement that Senator Fields and or some other victims' families didn’t have enough time to make a statement and come forward," says Maes, also noting that all of the testimony that the ACLU of Colorado received from victims families favored repealing the death penalty.

Maes contends that the other co-sponsor of the bill, Senator Angela Williams, who did not return a request for comment, spoke with Fields in November about repealing the death penalty.

"There is no doubt that Senator Fields knew a lot sooner than when that committee hearing occurred," says Maes, referring to a March 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing of the bill.

Gonzales says she struggled to get the bill off the ground from the outset.

"There were parts of the rollout of this bill that I didn’t find out about as a co-prime sponsor until the day before that bill’s introduction," she says. 
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.