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Push to abolish death penalty moves forward

7:42 PM, Feb 7, 2007   |    comments
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In a 7-4 vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved the measure Wednesday.
State Representative Paul Weissman, a Democrat from Louisville, says abolishing the death penalty could save millions of dollars which could go elsewhere.

Weissman says the money should be used to create a cold case unit within the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to help investigate unsolved homicides.

"By eliminating the death penalty the state itself saves about $800,000," said Weissman. "If you count local governments, it saves $4.5 million. Take about $600,000 of that, you can create a cold case unit in the state and also beef up forensics and chemical labs."

"The agency is opposed to the bill, primarily because of the way the funding mechanism for the unit will be created. Cold cases remain the work of local law enforcement and we continue working with them," said CBI spokesman Lance Clem.

Weissman says 1,200 killings have gone unsolved in Colorado since 1970. At the same time, he says millions have been spent prosecuting and defending death penalty cases.

"We hardly ever use the death penalty in the state; we put one murder, if you believe in the death penalty, above another one,” said Weisman. “You make district attorneys really pick and choose which cases they want to prosecute at the death penalty."

Wednesday’s hearing was very heated and lasted for hours. It eventually turned into a debate whether the death penalty is right or wrong.

Adams County District Attorney Don Quick testified against the measure.

"It's not fair to say, you only have one choice," Quick said, "the capital crimes unit, or these families, that's wrong. It's wrong to put it in that context."

State Attorney General John Suthers opposes it as well.

"The preservation of the death penalty for the very heinous (crimes) is absolutely essential to a meaningful social contract and I would oppose its abolition," Suthers said.

A number of people whose loved ones were murdered and killers never found testified in support of the measure.

Among them was Gail Lasuer, whose daughter, Monique, was strangled to death six year ago.

"It cost so much money and so many years to execute one person. If a cold case squad caught 30 murders, I think that would be a bigger benefit to society," she said.

Linda Gruno, whose sister, Polly Sullivan, was stabbed to death, says the cold case unit is needed.

"The death penalty is a good idea, unfortunately it's not implemented as nearly as often as it should be. But I feel you can only kill a person once, but you can make them miserable every day," said Gruno.

Currently, just two men are on death row in Colorado. Edward Montour was convicted in the 2003 murder of a corrections officer. Nathan Dunlap was convicted for the 1993 murder of four employees at the Chuck-E-Cheese restaurant in Aurora.

Weissman says he's not debating whether the death penalty is right or wrong.

"The local law enforcement could probably use the help of the additional money in forensic labs, need new eyes looking at the case," said Weissman.

If the bill passes, Weissman says it will take affect July 1 and will affect all the cases from that day forward. Dunlap and Montour would not be affected.

The House Appropriations Committee will take up the bill next week.

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