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Colorado Dems announce legislation that would repeal the death penalty

While it's had a long history in Colorado, the death penalty has not always been a part of its laws. If the Democrats in the legislature get their way, it will be no longer.

DENVER — Colorado's death penalty was reinstituted in 1974 by popular vote. Sixty-one percent of Coloradans - over 450,000 people - voted to reinstitute capital punishment.

In the West Foyer of Colorado Capitol Tuesday morning, a little over 45 years later (and one execution) later, Democrats introduced a bill to repeal the state's death penalty.

State Sen. Angela Williams was joined by State Sen. Julie Gonzales (both D-Denver), State Reps. Jeni Arndt (D-Fort Collins) and Adrienne Benavidez (D-Adams County) in making the announcement. Also on hand were Auxilliary Bishop Jorge Rodríguez, Rev. Patrick Demmer and Ezra Alden - a man whose biological father killed his mother.

The bill would repeal the death penalty for offenses charged on July 1, 2019, or after, according to the text of SB 19-182.

"I seek repeal of the death penalty because I'm a parent of an African American male," Williams said at an 11:30 a.m. press conference announcing the bill. She pointed out that all three men currently on death row in the state are black. "A death penalty trial can cost Colorado taxpayers $3.5 million" versus hundreds of thousands for life without parole, she continued.

READ | Gov. Jared Polis weighs in on the death penalty

Rodríguez came to express the Catholic Church's support for the bill.

Alden spoke up at the press conference, explaining that he didn't support capital punishment because he feels it wouldn't allow him to have questions answered. 

Demmer stood up at the podium drew minds back to the fact that all three men on death row are black: "We are 100 percent of those on death row and that is unacceptable."

Read the full text of the bill at this link.

Colorado has killed 103 people. According to Michael Radelet, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, the last time the state killed anyone was in Cañon City in 1997.

There are currently three inmates on death row in the state - Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people at a Chuck E. Cheese (previous Gov. John Hickenlooper stayed his death and decided to leave it up to his replacement - Gov. Jared Polis has made no moves to expedite his execution), Sir Mario Owens who murdered a young couple (both witnesses in another murder trial involving Owens) and Robert Ray, who ordered the hit on Owens' witnesses.

Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) - who showed up to the announcement with her fellow Democrats but not in support - got into political activism after Owens murdered her son Javad Fields and his fiancée Vivian Wolfe. In 2007 she was appointed by then-Gov. Bill Ritter to the Colorado Commission on Criminal Juvenile Justice and has worked on several pieces of legislation to help witnesses.

At the press conference, Fields told 9NEWS she was there to hear the arguments for repealing the death penalty. She called the even a little choreographed and said she was worried the process was being rushed.

"We have to talk to the leadership to find out why there was a need to do it today and why it needed to be heard tomorrow," she explained. "The calendar has been cleared for over a week where nothing had been scheduled for tomorrow. It makes me curious as to how long this was planned."

As a member of leadership, she said, she wasn't asked her opinion nor invited to a stakeholder meeting regarding the bill. She told 9NEWS she didn't support the move to repeal the death penalty partly because it is so hard to be sentenced to death.

"I think because we have so few on death row in Colorado, that's proven it's not something that's used very often, it's only used for the most heinous crimes - when there're multiple murders," she said.

Fields was first elected to the state legislature in 2010 where she served as a state representative. In 2016, she was elected to the state Senate. 

Owens was denied a new trial after his lawyers requested one in 2017.

There are two current death penalty cases moving their way through the Colorado criminal court as of Tuesday. The first, in El Paso County, sees the district attorney seeking the death penalty for Marco Garcia-Braco, accused of having a hand in killing two Coronado High School students.

MORE | DA to seek death penalty for man accused of killing Adams County deputy

The second case, in Adams County, has prosecutors seeking the death penalty for Dreion Dearing, the accused killer of Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm.

For more on the past of capital punishment in the Centennial State, check out this 9NEWS write up on the history of the death penalty in Colorado.

9NEWS reporter Steve Staeger contributed to this report and was on scene at the Capitol for the bill's unveiling.

Editor's Note: This article erroneously referred to Nathan Dunlap as Michael Dunlap. We have corrected and regret the error.

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