Legislature: How would you vote in repealing the death penalty?


By Representative McLachlan
Special to The SUN
My job as a legislator is to listen to all sides of an issue and to my constituents before making decisions. This week, we wrestled with the weightiest question before the General Assembly during my time here: Should Colorado repeal the death penalty?
We spent hours in debate.
Today, try being a legislator as you decide how to vote. Try to take away the emotional background you carry with you and, importantly, remove what your friends and family tell you to think. Then listen. Unless you are the family of a victim of crime, do not assume you understand how the families of victims feel about this deeply personal issue.
At the Capitol, I work with two legislators, family of victims who shared their stories.
Sen. Rhonda Fields’ son and his fiancé, who were eyewitnesses to a murder, were murdered themselves in 2005. Their killers are now two of the three people on death row.
Rep. Tom and Terry Sullivan’s son was murdered during the 2012 Aurora theater massacre. His murderer is serving a life sentence without parole.
Neither wants to repeal the death penalty.
If you disagree with their stances, could you, as a legislator, vote against your friends?
These are a few specific arguments from the impassioned and compelling testimony we heard:
Do not repeal:
• Murderers, evil to the core, do not deserve respect.
• Just the existence of the death penalty has led to confessions and verdicts.
• The death penalty makes us look closely at cases, rallying outsiders to help determine if the victim is innocent or guilty.
• Being in prison is like having a vacation. Those convicted should be put to death instead.
• The justice system makes mistakes and capital punishment leaves no room for error. About 2 percent of people on death row are found to be innocent.
• The right answer is moral, not political.
• The system is broken and the death penalty is unfairly applied. It should no longer exist.
• The convicted should spend their lives in prison, without any chance of parole.
Do not repeal:
• This is simple justice. An eye for an eye.
• Certain crimes affect the protection of our public safety. We need the death penalty.
• The system works.
• We draw strength from forgiveness. Focus on reform, not punishment.
• The death penalty is fiscally irresponsible.
• The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime; many horrendous crimes have been committed since its inception.
Do not repeal:
• This should go before the voters, not be decided by the Legislature.
• The last person executed was in 1977. Before that, 1967. Execution is not frequent enough to get rid of the death penalty.
• We have been elected to serve the people, to make difficult decisions on their behalf.
• The law is a living document.
• States with high murder rates have the death penalty. Those with low murder rates have abolished it.
Do not repeal:
• The death penalty is not applied in an arbitrary fashion. It is constitutional.
• It is never used for criminals under 18 or with disabilities. It includes aggravating factors, such as killing a witness to a crime, police or multiple victims in one crime spree, or committing heinous and barbaric acts of murder.
• A jury must decide the death penalty unanimously.
• It is not the state’s job to determine who lives or dies.
• All three men on Colorado’s death row are black, from one Denver neighborhood and had the same judge.
• Death penalty decisions are arbitrary and often depend on a family’s income, race or neighborhood.
• The law is unevenly applied in Colorado.
Do not repeal:
• We have had heinous crimes in Colorado, where the convicted men should be put to death for what they did to others: Ted Bundy. The Aurora theater. The STEM school shooting. The Watts family. Nathan Dunlap (the third person on death row) at Chuck E. Cheese.
• Dunlap’s lawyer, who has represented death row inmates from around the country, said the typical inmate grew up with extreme trauma in childhood, is a black or brown man, has been victimized, lives in poverty or is mentally ill.
Do not repeal:
• It is a moral question, a matter of justice.
• It is a moral question, a matter of justice.
There is no more important debate. I voted in favor of repeal. How would you vote?