Ideas. Stories. Community.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

An Effort To Repeal Colorado's Death Penalty Fails

Senator Lucia Guzman reads a newspaper article about her father's murder. She said his death inspired her to try to repeal the death penalty.
Bente Birkeland
Capitol Coverage
Senator Lucia Guzman reads a newspaper article about her father's murder. She said his death inspired her to try to repeal the death penalty.

In the last decade, Democrats have attempted to repeal Colorado's death penalty four times. Their latest attempt on Feb. 15 was amid contentious debate. Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman (D-Denver)  was behind the effort. She knew the odds were against her, but even before the hearing, she said she wanted to raise awareness to the moral and social issues surrounding the death penalty.

“There are a lot of people willing and wanting to learn more and more about the problems with it, the challenges of it, and we need to keep that message going,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll lose the battle, because the battle is long-term.”

Listen to the radio piece.

Guzman said her view is based on personal experience. When she was 28, her father was robbed and bludgeoned to death. The perpetrator did not receive the death penalty, and Guzman said she wanted it that way.

“When that happened to my Dad -- I believe that I owe it to my Dad’s experience to do all I can to pursue a route of non-violence,” said Guzman. “Being able to repeal the death penalty, we’re basically repealing a very violent response to injustice.”

Those who supported her measure -- Senate Bill 95 – argued that death sentences are given unevenly and inconsistently, and are costly to taxpayers.

In 2012, Tim Ricard’s wife was murdered where she worked in a Colorado prison  bakery. He said he doesn’t think the death penalty is ever justified

“I’ve always lived my life trying to follow what God’s rules are, to the best of my ability. God says vengeance is mine,” said Ricard.

Republican opponents won the day in a vote that went strictly along party lines.  

“There are truly evil people in this world,” said District Attorney Dan May for the 4th Judicial District based in Colorado Springs. 

May views capital punishment as a crime deterrent and testified that it can save lives. Others agreed.

“Not all murders are the same,” said George Brauchler, the District Attorney for the 18th  Judicial District based in Arapahoe County. “If we are going to try to seek justice, what we try to do is distinguish as much as we can one person from another.”

Brauchler prosecuted the death penalty case against Aurora Theatre shooter James Holmes who killed 12 people and injured 70 more in 2012. Holmes ultimately received life in prison but Brauchler stands by his decision to seek the death penalty in the case. He said the state needs the option for those who commit the most heinous of crimes.

“Someone who murders children, or a judge, or a police officer, or numerous people, or tortures someone,” he said.

The death penalty is used sparingly in Colorado. Three people are currently on death row. The last execution in Colorado was nearly 20 years ago. In recent years, Nathan Dunlap was scheduled for execution after killing three people at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. Governor John Hickenlooper gave Dunlap an indefinite reprieve for as long as he is in office, leaving his fate  in the hands of his successor. 

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.

Copyright 2017 KUNC

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.