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Colorado is the latest state to abolish the death penalty

Denver Post via Getty Images

The death penalty will soon be no more in Colorado.

Gov. Jared Polis signed legislation on Monday abolishing the death penalty, making Colorado the 22nd state to do so.

He also commuted the sentences of three men on death row. Robert Ray, Sir Mario Owens and Nathan Dunlap will now serve life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to a news release.

“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 said 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.”

Some families of victims were opposed

The bill repeals the death penalty for offenses charged on or after July 1, 2020. Defendants convicted of offenses charged before that date could still be subject to the death penalty, and according to the Denver Post, at least one person is facing trial in a case that could result in the death penalty.

While advocacy organizations celebrated Polis’ decision, others were against it.

Among those opponents is state Sen. Rhonda Fields. Ray, one of the men whose sentences was commuted by Polis, was convicted in the killing of Javad Marshall Fields, the son of Fields, and his fiance, Vivian Wolfe.

“Dear Colorado, Today…@GovofCO commutes capital punishment sentences of those who killed my son and bride to be,” Fields tweeted. “In a stoke of a pen Gov Polis hijacks justice and undermines our criminal justice system.”

Polis said in his statement that the decision was made after a “thorough outreach process” to victims and their families.

“While I understand that some victims agree with my decision and others disagree, I hope this decision provides clarity and certainty for them moving forward,” the governor’s statement read.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado acknowledged those who opposed abolishing the death penalty, though it called the repeal long overdue.

“It is a difficult issue for many people, but we have come to learn the reasons that the death penalty should be a thing of the past: it does not deter crime, it is arbitrary and often discriminatory in its application, it lengthens the trial process and is much more costly than alternatives, it places a heavy burden on those who must carry it out, and it can and does make fatal, irreversible mistakes,” the organization’s executive director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley said in a statement.

The death penalty is on the decline

Capital punishment across the US remained near “historic lows” last year, according to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center.

The organization said that 22 people were executed in 2019 — the second-fewest since 1991.

That decline is also supported by public opinion.

A majority of Americans said that life in prison with no possibility of parole was a better punishment for murder than the death penalty, according to a Gallup poll published in 2019. It was first time in at least 30 years that most Americans preferred a life sentence, the company said.

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