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Gov. Polis Abolishes Death Penalty, Commutes Death Row Inmates' Sentences To Life In Prison

Scott Franz
Capitol Coverage
Gov. Jared Polis talks to reporters at the state Capitol in 2019.

Gov. Jared Polis has signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Colorado.

The governor also announced Monday he has commuted the sentences of three men currently on death row to life in prison without parole.

"Commutations are typically granted to reflect evidence of extraordinary change in the offender. That is not why I am commuting these sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole," Polis wrote in a statement. "Rather, 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."

While significant bills are usually signed in public ceremonies, the governor has been signing dozens of measures into law privately during the coronavirus pandemic.

The abolishment of the death penalty follows years of emotional debates at the state Capitol that put the spotlight on lawmakers' religious beliefs and their experiences of losing loved ones to gun violence and murder.

The repeal also passed despite opposition from some leading Democrats, including Sen. Rhonda Fields, whose son was killed by two of the three men on death row.

The state will stop using capital punishment for all crimes committed after July 1.

Supporters of the repeal say the death penalty is costly and has unfairly targeted minorities.

But opponents think it helps avoid costly trials and gives prosecutors more leverage when looking for murder victims.

Colorado has not executed a prisoner since 1997, when Gary Lee Davis was put to death for rape and murder.

More than 20 states have now repealed the death penalty.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.
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