Colorado’s action is part of a gradual national trend to move away from capital punishment.
Colorado abolished capital punishment earlier this week, and commuted the sentences of three inmates scheduled for execution to life in prison without possibility of parole.
In a statement, Gov. Jared Polis said, “The commutations of these despicable and guilty individuals are consistent with the abolition of the death penalty in the State of Colorado, and consistent with the recognition that the death penalty cannot be, and never has been, administered equitably in the State of Colorado.”
As the latest in a wave of 22 states to repeal the death penalty, Colorado’s action is part of a gradual national trend to move away from capital punishment. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, public support for it is near a generational low. Last year, a Gallup poll revealed 42% of respondents opposed the death penalty—the highest level since it was reintroduced in the state in 1976. Even when it was legal, Colorado ranked at the bottom among states that utilized capital punishment, performing its sole execution since reinstatement in 1997.
Kristina Roth, a senior program manager for Amnesty USA, praised the legislation: “The way the death penalty is carried out is painful, violent, and inhumane, and it is weaponized in this country disproportionately against communities of color,” Roth said. “The use of the death penalty as a punishment is outdated, fundamentally broken and must end once and for all.”
The move was not without opposition. Robert Ray, one of the inmates whose sentence was commuted, had been convicted of arranging the killings of state Sen. Rhonda Fields’ son Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancee after they witnessed another murder.
“In a stroke of a pen Gov. Polis hijacks justice and undermines our criminal justice system,” Sen. Fields said in a statement.
George Brauchler, district attorney in Arapahoe County where the three men were tried, called it “political opportunism.”
“Buried under the coverage of an urgent, global pandemic, Gov. Polis wiped away three separate unanimous jury verdicts for some of the worst murderers in our state’s history,” Brauchler said. “The decision to do it during a global pandemic is disrespectful to the victims, the jurors and the public.”
Under the new law, state prosecutors will not be able to seek the death penalty in any case filed after July 1.