Maryland Bans the Death Penalty, Colorado Could be Next

Maryland has become the 18th state to ban the death penalty since 1976.

What happens to the five inmates on Maryland's death row?? The Guardian explains it's an unknown as yet.

Other states repealing the death penalty in the recent years: Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.

Colorado legislators will be debating a bill to repeal the death penalty very soon. [More...]

Aside from the morality and expense issues, there's the arbitrariness factor:

A study last year by the University of Denver law school — which was commissioned by Edward Montour's attorneys — found that while the death penalty was an option in 92 percent of Colorado's first-degree murders between 1999 and 2010, it was sought only 3 percent of the time.

All three inmates on Colorado's death row are African-American. All were tried and sentenced in Arapahoe county, where Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes is awaiting a decision on whether prosecutors will seek a death sentence.

Colorado has not executed anyone since Gary Davis in 1977. But Nathan Dunlap's time is drawing near. Last month, the Supreme Court denied his appeal, paving the way for prosecutors in Arapahoe county to file a motion for a death warrant.

According to state law, once prosecutors file their motion for a death warrant, [Judge] Sylvester would designate a week between 90 and 120 days out for the execution to take place. It would be up to the head of the Colorado Department of Corrections to pick the precise day and time.

Just today, three men who allegedly robbed a Denver bar in October, killing the owner and four employees and patrons and then setting the place on fire as a coverup, were bound over for trial in Denver. One woman was stabbed more than 21 times and another 14 times. I can't find any articles referring to prosecutors' intent to seek the death penalty. The death penalty is rarely sought in Denver, or any counties besides Araphoe, Jefferson and Adams. Why should there be such a variation between counties? The death penalty should not be a geographic lottery.

For other problems with the arbitrariness of Colorado's death penalty, see this January, 2013 report from the University of Denver, described here.

In this groundbreaking study, the researchers reviewed all first-degree murder cases in the state between 1999 and 2010. They found that 92 percent of the 544 first-degree murder cases in that time span contained at least one aggravating factor that made the defendant eligible for the death penalty. However, prosecutors filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty in only 15 murder cases and pursued the death penalty at trial in only five of those cases — a 1% rate among death-eligible cases.

The authors wrote, “Under the Colorado capital sentencing system, many defendants are eligible but almost none are actually sentenced to death. Because Colorado's aggravating factors so rarely result in actual death sentences, their use in any given case is a violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

Another problem: It's not really a judge or jury who decides. It's the prosecutor, who decides in the first instance whom to charge. Take the Fero's bar case. Three men are charged, but there were four in the group that night. One, who happens to be an ATF informant, is facing no charges. He claims he didn't know what the others were going to do. He turned the others in hours or days after the killings (news reports vary) and he had some of the robbery money on him. (The killings had been all over the news within an hour -- I remember watching the live reports.) Harris apparently didn't leave when the stabbings began, as he described them in detail to his ATF handler and agreed to testify against the others. The other three claim Harris is lying. But because the prosecutor believes him, he is getting a pass and no judge or jury will decide his fate. (If the jury disbelieves him at trial, it just means they all are likely to walk free.)

Another problem is that only death-qualified jurors get to sit on death penalty cases. Given the number of people in our state and society who oppose the death penalty, how is such a jury a fair representation?

Here is the Death Penalty Information Center's 2012 Year End Report on the death penalty nationally.

I'll stop now with the recent op-ed by Boulder County Stan Garnett in the Daily Camera, on "the practical problems with the death penalty [which] make it of limited relevance to Colorado law enforcement." After explaining the extreme financial cost and excessive human resources required in a death case, he writes:

My final concern is the randomness. Most murders, charged as first degree, could qualify to seek the death penalty under the Colorado statutory scheme. Though Boulder County has had plenty of heinous murders over the years, there has never been a death verdict imposed here in the nearly 140 years since statehood (the one time it was sought here, in 1978, the case plead out during jury selection due to the unwieldiness of seating a death qualified jury). The 18th Judicial District (Arapahoe/Douglas County), on the other hand, has several pending death cases currently...for murders that are not significantly different than what we prosecute in Boulder (my emphasis).

What is the point of a penalty that is only sought in a tiny percentage of the cases where it could be sought, or where geography is a factor in whether it is sought? Obviously, the risk of racial or other subjective factors being considered (or appearing to be considered) in selecting who is put to death is significant.

If the death penalty is repealed in Colorado, under the proposed bill, media reports say it would be prospective, meaning it will not affect James Holmes, or Nathan Dunlap or his fellow death row inmates. (Although Gov. Hickenlooper could decide to grant clemency to Dunlap, probably a long shot.)

Hopefully, Colorado legislators will follow in the footsteps of Maryland and other states that have seen the light. I wonder though, will they spend even a fraction of the time debating life vs. death as they did debating concealed weapons on campus and gun magazines?

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  • Display: Sort:
    Progress (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by CoralGables on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 10:26:50 PM EST
    on this issue is a wonderful thing. I'm still hoping for an end to capital punishement in my lifetime. (Something I never expected)

    Entering the Twilight Zone (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by NYShooter on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 10:41:09 PM EST
    With kudos for Maryland, and hope for Colorado, we are entering a period where, I fear, all kinds of quirks of fate will be taking place.

    But, first, a caveat: I am totally opposed to having capital punishment as an option available to Prosecutors.....not so much on moral grounds, but more for the realization that its implementation is often a result of shoddy police work, overly ambitious prosecution, inept defendant representation, lack of defendant's access to investigation and forensic assistance because of funding restraints, and a whole host of other factors such as racism, political pressure, bias, and elevated, prosecutorial testosterone levels.

    Having said that, imagine being, or being related to, that last person executed before a ban is instituted in this growing number of states. With the number of states banning the death penalty approaching 50% the wind of history is obvious. And, this question may be redundant, but isn't there a way for the federal government to engineer a nationwide moratorium on executions until this tremendously important issue is fully researched, discussed, debated, and resolved?

    It's (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by lentinel on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 06:48:57 AM EST
    so difficult to determine the direction of the country.

    One State is outlawing capital punishment, and another is considering doing so.

    Another State is moving progressively toward decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana.

    Others are making it increasing difficult for a woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

    We seem to be going two different directions at once.

    even if we could be 100 percent (5.00 / 4) (#4)
    by TeresaInPa on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 08:09:52 AM EST
    positive that everyone put to death were guilty of the crime they were convicted of, I would still be against the death penalty. I am against it on moral grounds absolutely and have no problem admitting that.  

    Morally... (none / 0) (#10)
    by ScottW714 on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 11:30:25 AM EST
    ...I have few issues with it.  

    One issue is that it complete non-sense that the punishment for a capital crime is for the state to commit a capital crime.

    Another is the problem,society as a whole has to determine who they should kill, the method to be used, and designate the killers.  IMO it's extremely unhealthy for a society to spent these kings of massive energies on killing people.  Same applies to war.

    And lastly, my main issue with executions. the economics.  The costs vary but it's over a million dollars cheaper to lock someone up for life than to spend the dollars trying and housing a death row inmate.  Varies depending on age, and because the appeal process is so long, some death row inmate die naturally before their executions.  Which means the state has spent all the money to kill someone, a little less $2M, all for not.  

    It makes absolutely no sense to me to spent that kind of money on a handful of scumbags who will never join society, while children and adults go hungry or can't be treated for ailments that will effect their health.

    And think about this, at GITMO they are force feeding inmates, presumably to keep them alive, who are so horrible, they can't be transferred to US soil.  While here on US soil, we spend countless millions trying to kill the bad guys.  WTF ?


    You must have meant... (none / 0) (#11)
    by sj on Tue Mar 19, 2013 at 10:28:41 AM EST
    ...I [a] have few issues with it.
    All good points.  I used to have conflicting viewpoints on capital punishment.  On the one hand, similar to your first point, I believe that the justice system should be the purest reflection/form of a society.  I know that is far from what it is, but I truly believe that is what it should be, and it should not be stooping to that society's lowest common demonimator.

    On the other hand I was conflicted about what to do with the Bundys and Dahmers, etc., who would always be a threat to society.

    I'm not conflicted anymore.  Long term incarceration for any but the most dangerous criminals is wrong.  Rehabilition is right, and a priority or even requirement of literacy for inmates being released should have been implemented long ago.  Life time incarceration is the right solution for the Bundys and the Dahmers.  But!  Life time incarceration need not be the brutal life that it presently is.

    I realize that prisoner's rights aren't high on this nation's list of priorities and when I first became active in politics I had to pick some priorities that I could work with and focus on those.  But they should be, you know?  Because we not only brutalize our incarcerated, we victimize their families.

    I'm not usually one for Bible quotes, but this one has meaning to me:

    Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    Good news (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Slado on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 08:19:00 AM EST
    I've never liked the death penalty and see it as a medieval form of justice.

    There is no logical justification for it and it pains me when conservatives abandon their principles to justify it.

    If you don't trust the government to tax and spend your money how can you trust them to prosecute and kill people with a 100% accuracy rate.  

    It defies common sense.

    "kill people with a 100% accuracy rate" (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by jtaylorr on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 09:52:43 AM EST
    It doesn't just defy common sense, it defies all possibility. Until Minority Report becomes a reality, innocent people will ALWAYS be mistakenly put in prison. No justice system is infallible.
    That fact alone should be enough to do away with death penalty but obviously, humans' emotional desire to see 'justice' done is stronger than logic and reason.

    Always a contradiction of then right (none / 0) (#9)
    by Slado on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 03:14:57 PM EST
    That bothers me.  I don't know how you can preach about the sanctity of human life and favor the death penalty.   Life is life, even when it's committed a crime.

    You either support human life or you don't.  

    Tons of scripture that says we should "turn the other cheek"


    I find (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by Ga6thDem on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 02:13:57 PM EST
    it interesting how much people have been moving away from support of the death penalty over the last 15 years or so. I would imagine organizations like the Innocence Project have been very influential in changing attitudes.

    Civil unions, gun control... (none / 0) (#8)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 03:13:44 PM EST
    hopefully practical marijuana regulation and possibly ending the death penalty--it is amazing what can happen when you put people who are actually interested in governing and have the guts to do so in charge.

    Now, if we could only get Governor "Fracking fluid is a tasty and healthy beverage" out of the back pocket of the oil and gas industry.