Ending Colorado’s death penalty is no longer just about doing the right thing; it’s about doing the only thing the state can.
We have long argued that the death penalty is a repugnant, barbaric holdover from an unenlightened society, putting Colorado and much of the United States in the dubious company of North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
It’s a tragedy that Senate Bill 95 died in a state Senate committee Wednesday night on a party-line vote, but it’s not too late to try the measure in the State House, and let the public persuade partisan Republicans how very wrong they are on this issue.
The arguments against the death penalty, which is simply revenge murder, are compelling and unequivocal:
— The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. This has been substantiated in numerous studies, numerous times. Murder is almost always the result of severe psychological illness, drugs, alcohol or passion. None of those causes are affected by executions or any other laws.
— The death penalty is not equally or fairly applied in Colorado, or anywhere in the country. Murder for murder, it is a far greater percentage of poor minorities who are handed the death penalty than richer, whiter murderers. And in Colorado, every person on death row got there from an Arapahoe County court, although heinous murder cases arise across the state. Had Chuck E. Cheese’s murderer Nathan Dunlap committed his sadistic 1993 crime anywhere but in Aurora, he would have been given life without parole.
— The death penalty is obscenely expensive. A recent study of the death penalty in Maryland shows that it costs about $3 million to bring a death penalty convict to the death chamber. The same capital case without the threat of death penalty costs about $1 million, according to the study. Death penalty states have spent billions of dollars on capital punishment systems since they were re-authorized in 1978.
— Even for those who have no qualms about killing people back for their crimes, the death penalty is ineffective because it simply takes so long to invoke. Not long ago, the average death sentence was 28 years, now down to about 18 years. A full 25 percent of capital punishment cases still die of natural causes before they make it to the death chamber. Dunlap killed four employees of the Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in 1993. It took 20 years to pull a date for his execution two years ago, set aside by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
If that’s not convincing enough, and if the moral argument against savagely murdering another human for any reason isn’t compelling, consider that the capital punishment system simply doesn’t and can’t work. More than one Aurora Sentinel story has pointed out that even if Colorado were able to get a death penalty case to the execution chamber, the state cannot obtain the drugs it needs to carry out such an execution.
And Colorado can no longer even get capital convictions. Even a case as repulsive as the Aurora theater shootings have been unable to persuade a jury to murder the convict for his horrific crime. The only thing that adds up from these cases is the massive bill taxpayers must pony up to prosecute a death penalty case, just to lose it. And even if there’s a win, the exorbitant expense of decades of appeals and special prison accommodations only compounds the folly.
Once again, state Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, offered a bill that addresses only future cases, calling for life in prison without parole for the worst of the worst cases to come before future courts. Her arguments for ending the death penalty are especially persuasive because she knows first-hand every nuance of a death penalty case. Her 73-year-old father was murdered while working in a convenience store in 1975. She has since steadfastly worked to help us all understand that revenge isn’t justice.
“It wouldn’t bring justice to my daddy, all that he was, all that he did,” Guzman said previously. “Because it was an act of violence, but my daddy was never a violent man.”
It’s time to end the expensive, barbaric, ineffective and broken revenge-killing system in Colorado. The state House should revive the issue, and every state lawmaker should vote yes on what is the only way forward.