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We’re Number 1…and Number 22

W. Scott Cole

Posted on March 30, 2020 22:39

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On March 23, Colorado became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty. While it is a victory for those of us who think the death penalty has no place in today’s modern world, in part because of its unequal application and the number of innocent men it has killed, it really doesn’t change much in the state’s attitude toward the death penalty.

The abolition of the death penalty in Colorado is effective on July 1, 2020, meaning that until June 30, if a person is convicted of a crime that a District Attorney feels is deserving of the death penalty, it could still be handed down as a punishment upon conviction.

For all you history buffs out there, Colorado was actually the first state in the nation to abolish the death penalty way back in 1897. It was reinstated just four years later, in 1901, due to a large number of lynchings that were happening in the state. From that year to 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional, 101 executions were carried out in Colorado. Since the High Court allowed death penalty reinstatement in 1975, there has been one execution, which took place in 1997.

In August of 2015, when James Holmes was convicted of killing 12 people and injuring dozens in a theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the jury refused to recommend the death penalty. A few months later, a different jury refused to recommend the death penalty for Dexter Lewis, who stabbed five people to death in a Denver bar.

As of today, there is one person facing a death penalty trial. That man is Dreion Dearing, who is accused of killing Adams County Sheriff’s Deputy Heath Gumm on January 24, 2018. Jury selection for his trial is underway, but the new law specifically exempts anyone convicted of an offense charged prior to July 1.

The bill Governor Polis signed into law also stated that nothing in it “commutes or alters the sentence of a defendant convicted of an offense charged prior to July 1, 2020” and that all death sentences in effect would continue to be valid.

After signing the bill, the governor used the powers of his office to commute the sentences of the three men on death row to life without parole. At that time, he said his commutations had nothing to do with the three men and was done solely to be consistent with the abolition of the death penalty and because the death penalty cannot be and never has been administered equitably in this state.

The three who were on death row were all black men: Nathan Dunlap, who was convicted of shooting and killing four people in a Chuck-E-Cheese restaurant on May 22, 2013; Sir Mario Owens, who was convicted of murdering a couple who were prosecution witnesses in a murder trial that involved him; and Robert Ray, who ordered the murders Sir Mario Owens committed and was the person about to go to trial for the murder a young couple witnessed.

In my opinion, these three men just had their sentences made much more harsh. They will spend the rest of their lives facing the knowledge that, because of their own actions, they will forever be on the outside looking in and will never again spend true quality time with loved ones.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on March 30, 2020 22:39

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Source: NYT
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