For reasons I have expressed in earlier posts, I am opposed to the death penalty. I simply do not trust our criminal justice system enough to make a life or death decision on the innocence or guilt of an individual (based on recent news concerning Dr. West and others, it seems my distrust in the system is completely justified). I am very pleased to learn that the Colorado General Assembly is taking a hard look at this issue and considering repealing the death penalty and using the money saved to help investigate cold cases.
The Rocky Mountain News reports:
The idea of abolishing the death penalty in Colorado and using the money it takes to prosecute such cases to solve so-called cold cases stirred debate in a House committee late into the night Monday.
House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, revived his bill that just missed passing the House in 2007. The threat of death does not deter people from committing murders, he said, and the $370,000 spent to prosecute those cases could be better spent on investigating unsolved murders.
Since 1967, Colorado has executed one person and there are only two people on death row, Weissmann said. During that time, there have been 1,435 unsolved homicides.
Considering that the death penalty is so rarely enforced in Colorado, it seems to me that even those who support the death penalty should recognize the incredible costs associated with placing less than a handful of individuals on death row. The families of these 1,435 victims have just as much right to bring the killers of their loved ones to justice as those who wait for the day of execution for the ones who have taken their loved ones from them.
The article continues:
But several opponents of Weissmann’s bill said it’s based on a false argument.
Attorney General John Suthers noted that the Homicide Assistance Unit that works to solve and prosecute death penalty cases also has assisted 19 of the state’s 22 judicial districts with cold cases.
Colorado Bureau of Investigation Director Ron Sloan said that a Cold Case Task Force formed in 2007 is nearing the point where it will bring together federal, state and local analysts to review cases that are referred to it.
Plus, Suthers said, there are times when the possibility of receiving the death penalty is necessary to deter crimes. Those include instances in which someone who has been sentenced to or is facing life in prison might want to kill witnesses or commit an act of terrorism, he said.
I disagree that the bill makes a “false argument.” If the state saves $370,000 by no longer prosecuting death penalty cases, that’s $370,000 the cold case units have to work with that they currently do not. And if Colorado has only executed one person since 1967, how does having the death penalty on the books deter individuals from committing homicide?
I think we all instinctively know the answer: it doesn’t.