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Lawmakers kill death-penalty bill

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

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Democrats helped kill a colleague's bill today that would have shifted funding from death-penalty prosecutions to paying for more cold-case murder investigations.

On a 35-30 vote, lawmakers finished off House Bill 1094, which would have cut in half the state attorney general's four-member death-penalty prosecution team to free up $180,000 to fund a proposed cold-case unit to crack Colorado's 1,200 unsolved murders.

Republicans defeated the bill with 10 votes from Democrats, including House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver.

Sponsor Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, argued that Coloradans' public safety is poorly served by spending $4.5 million annually on capital punishment prosecutions and appeals when the state has only executed one person in 40 years.

"So by cutting down the number of people in the capital crimes unit from four to two ... won't have an impact on how many times the death penalty is actually carried through to execution," added Weissmann, noting the unit once had eight members.

"But this bill does give an impact, it does make a difference to those families of the 1,200 unsolved homicides in this state. It does create a chance for them to actually bring closure. It does bring the opportunity for them to find out who killed their loved one."

But opponents like Attorney General John Suthers and the state district attorneys' association lobbied hard against the bill, calling it a backdoor bid to torpedo capital punishment.

"We need options for our society to deal with the most wicked among us," said Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, a Mesa County sheriff's investigator. "Options for families of murder victims to see that true justice is done on behalf of their murdered loved ones."

"We have an obligation to those we represent to be the ones that draw the hard line when it comes to dealing with the Bundys, the McVeighs and the Dahmers," King said, referring to infamous serial killers or mass-murderers who have been executed. "And we do that on behalf of the victims, their families and in the name of justice."

Despite the bill's demise, the state may still create a one-investigator cold-case unit under a separate bill by Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton that has passed the House and awaits Senate action.

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