DENVER — It was expected, yet still surprising.
She knew Gov. Jared Polis (D) was going to sign the bill that would repeal the death penalty in Colorado, but Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, just didn't know he would also end the death sentence for her son's killers on the same day.
"I had no clue it was all going to be with one pen stroke, that he would repeal and then commute," said Fields. I’m disappointed. I’m disgusted. I believe that justice was hijacked."
On Monday, Polis signed the bill into law that will repeal the death penalty for crimes charged after July 1, 2020. He also issued three executive orders commuting the sentences of the three inmates on Colorado's death row.
One of them is the killer from the 1993 Chuck E. Cheese murders in Aurora. The other two were involved in the murder of Fields' son, Javad Marshall-Fields, who was shot to death, along with his fiancé Vivian Wolfe, just before Marshall-Fields was to testify in the murder trial of one of the two men.
"We’re mourning today because justice has been hijacked," said Maisha Fields, Javad's sister. "I believe that Javad and Vivian are turning in their graves."
Rhonda Fields told 9NEWS that she has had ongoing conversations with the governor about the death penalty repeal, and that she had two conversations with him this week regarding commutation.
"I think he was checking the box to make sure that he checked in with victims. He wanted to make sure that he could say that, so I felt like I was just an instrument as it relates to checking a box off," said Rhonda Fields.
In the commutation of her son's killers, Polis wrote:
"I am under no illusion that this Executive Order gives all of the victims what they want or need, but I hope they will find some comfort in knowing that a final decision has been made regarding (Offender Number's) sentence and that he will spend the rest of his life imprisoned, with no possibility of release or rejoining society. I also hope that the victims find some peace and will finally be freed from the public attention that has forced them to relive this personal tragedy over and over."
Does it give me peace? No. My heart will always be empty. And his decision hasn’t given me any more peace than I had yesterday," said Fields. Closure was when my son was murdered. And there’s no comfort in the loss of his life for participating in our criminal justice system. So, for him to declare that he hopes that gives closure in knowing that a decision has been made, the decisions were made by the offenders who killed my son."
On Monday, District Attorney George Brauchler said that state law requires a commutation to be requested before it can be considered by a governor.
The cases for Fields' killers are still pending appeal, but when asked if the governor has received commutation requests from all three previous death row inmates, a spokesman said, "As stated in the executive order for Dunlap: he applied for clemency under Governor Hickenlooper which prompted the reprieve from Gov Hickenlooper. Pursuant to Executive Order B 2019 012, recreating and reorganizing the Governor's Executive Clemency Advisory Board, all Board proceedings and records, including clemency applications and related materials, shall be confidential and shall be available solely to the Governor and the Governor's staff."
"I think the governor has the authority to do what he did, but he didn’t follow procedure," said Fields.
Since crimes charged before July 1, 2020, are still eligible for the death penalty, Brauchler could still pursue the death penalty in the case against the suspect in the 1984 hammer killings of the Bennett family in Aurora.
The case against Dreion Dearing in the death of Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm could also end up with the death penalty being sought.
"You already know it’s going to happen. The governor has already, kind of, identified his values, what’s important and what he thinks about our justice system, and he’s just going to commute it," said Fields.
The Fields family has fought the repeal of the death penalty a half dozen times. The legislature made sure it would be for future crimes and not impact the sentences already decided.
"The state legislature came to us and said that this bill would not have any partiality to Javad Fields and Vivian Wolfe in their case, that was a lie," said Maisha Fields. "That was a bait-and-switch. So, the peace that I once had, I no longer have. And I’ve lost just a little bit more trust in democracy."
It's the power of the governor, and not the legislature, to commute sentences.
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