DENVER — Colorado may follow Maryland in abolishing the death penalty this year, but the repeal will have to come at the hands of voters, not the state legislature.
The House Judiciary Committee killed a bill Tuesday to repeal the death penalty by a vote of 6-4, with two Democrats siding with Republicans in opposing the measure. Still alive is a bill that would refer the issue to the voters on the November ballot.
Democratic state Rep. Lois Court said she was persuaded to vote against the bill by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who had expressed reservations about abolishing the death penalty without consulting voters.
“I know we should repeal the death penalty. I also know that the governor has publicly said that he is struggling with it, and that he is not confident that the people of Colorado are comfortable with this approach at this point,” said Mrs. Court.
Capital punishment is used sparingly in Colorado: the state has executed only one inmate since 1976, and there are just three inmates on the state’s Death Row. One inmate ended up dying on Death Row in 2002 before he could be executed.
At the same time, the Arapahoe County District Attorney is expected to seek the death penalty for James Eagan Holmes, the suspect charged in the July 20 mass shooting at the Aurora theater that left 12 dead and 58 injured.
Repealing the death penalty had proved politically tricky for state Democrats, despite their control of both legislative houses. Not only was the Democratic governor unenthusiastic about the bill, but it was opposed by Democratic state Rep. Rhonda Fields, whose son and his fiancee were murdered in 2005 by two of the men now on Death Row.
Mrs. Fields is the sponsor of the bill to refer the issue to the voters, which is pending in committee.
“I think that we need to take a deep breath and consider what the ramifications of this repeal will be if we pass it out of this committee,” said Mrs. Court. “I think it’s important for us to be cognizant of what the people of this state expect, and I don’t know that they expect this of us at this point.”