Death Penalty

The Fight Over Colorado's Death Penalty Was Shaped by the Families of Murder Victims

Concern for the families appeared on both sides of the debate.


The Colorado House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would end the death penalty in the state. The legislation is now headed to Gov. Jared Polis' desk, where he is expected to sign it. The bill will not directly affect the cases of the three men currently on death row in Colorado, but the governor has indicated that if the bill becomes law he would seriously consider commuting their sentences to life in prison.

Two of the men on death row, Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens, were convicted and sentenced for murdering Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe. State Sen. Rhonda Fields (D–Aurora) is Marshall-Fields' mother, and she is one of the few Democrats in the Senate who has remained opposed to a repeal. Indeed, her strong opposition sank a previous repeal effort and has encouraged other politicians to oppose repeal.

State Rep. Tom Sullivan (D–Aurora) has led a similar opposition effort in the House. Sullivan's son was killed in the 2012 Aurora Theater shooting. Though shooter James Holmes was eventually sentenced to life in prison, Sullivan maintained that he would continue fighting for the death penalty in the state.

But the families of murder victims have not all come down on the same side of the issue. Some have spoken up in favor of the bill. The American Civil Liberties Union released a video earlier this year featuring Coloradans who opposed the death penalty despite losing a loved one to murder. Some of these testimonies were taken to the state Capitol: Sharletta Evans, whose 3-year-old son was murdered, and Victoria Baker-Willford, whose mother was murdered, told lawmakers why they were opposed to the death penalty despite these tragedies. Some have religious objections, while others said the death penalty would just bring further trauma.

Now that the repeal bill has passed, advocates have had a chance to reflect on the fight.

"While Republicans are not in the majority in the Colorado Legislature, they are among the prime sponsors of the bill, and their support has made it possible to repeal the death penalty," says Hannah Cox, national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. "They are backed by a wide coalition of faith leaders, murder victims' family members, former members of corrections, and yes, grassroots conservatives, all who feel it is far past time for this antiquated system to be left in the history books."

"167 innocent people have been officially exonerated from death row since 1973," adds Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the ACLU. "There is no excuse for any government that respects justice, fairness, and human dignity to continue to execute its people."

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  1. Thr ACLU can kiss my ass. Theyll defend treating murderers and rapists like theyre deserving of care and respect. They lost any sort humanity when they committed their crime. If anything, the death penalty should be used regularly and prison should be a place you never want to go to and only get to leave if youre dead or or served some ridiculously long sentence.

    1. Prison isn’t generally a place people want to go. It’s just that deterrents like that are ineffective.

      1. Prison now is just a separation from society under different rules. Theres no real motivator or drive to change for the inmates, and alot of prisons give good time depending on the crime. Being inside means they get at minimum three meals a day, bath and toilet, access to recreational equipment. It certainly isnt a punishment. Im not saying prison is where peopke want to go but it is by no means effective as a punishment. The whole system needs to be changed, what constitutes crimes such as drugs related which shouldnt be. Prison should be for people that shoukdnt ever be out in society again.

        1. What is your point?

          Do you wish to go live in prison for all the good times?

          I didn’t think so, and neither do the prisoners

          1. Huh? English motherfucker, do you speak it?

    2. I guess you missed this part, “167 innocent people have been officially exonerated from death row since 1973. . . .”

      1. Wow real staggering numbers. Thats the population of a single house of a small prison. Like anything, people always fall through the cracks. That means nothing next to the millions of people in prison because they should be.

        1. IOW it wasn’t you so they don’t count

          It would seem like a staggering number if it were you or someone you cared about who was wrongly convicted

          Oh, wait, you don’t care about anyone else.

          1. I dont get involved in situations that would lead to my potential imprisonment. Some people do and get imprisoned for it. Bgg im sure there are other situations that occur but on rthe whole the amount of people in prison for their crimes is probably overwhelmingly correct, its just that certain crimes that exist now shouldnt. Cant change things until laws are rewritten. If evidence comes out that someone was wrongfully imprisoned then pardon said person and provide a reimbursement. Makkng personal attacks isnt going to get me riled up.

            1. 167 INNOCENT. In other words, by definition they also did nothing to get involved in situations that should have led to their imprisonment. And those are death row cases where you can’t just “pardon said person and provide a reimbursement”.

              No, 167 is not a huge number when compared to the prison population as a whole. It is somewhat larger when you consider that it’s a measure only of those on death row. (Those serving non-death sentences have a significantly harder time getting outside help in the review of their cases.) And most people would still consider it manifestly unjust to be wrongly convicted even if they were the only person ever to suffer that fate. Your refusal to acknowledge that supports arpiniant’s interpretation that you don’t care about anyone but yourself.

        2. 167 over 40 years when states have been eliminating the death penalty. There could be alot more, in adittion to onez not on death row. Any system will always have faults and mistakes, libertarians should recognize that. If you want to talk individual prisoners and their cases ok fine, but in general our policing system catches the right ctiminals and gets them in prison. If you bvb think it doesnt petitio n to change it. And again attacking me by saying i dont care wont rile me up. I have lots of people i care about, but im not going to pretend like i can about people ive never met nor nlknow the details of why they were imprisoned. Maybe they should be in prison for a different reason. Stop parading around like you care about these people. Youre trying to argue some poilsition or cause. Those people dont even have an dffect onbyour daily life.

          1. Reply to rossami. I hate reasons website now.

    3. You can always identify a brain-washed conservative by their knee-jerk hate reaction anytime the ACLU is brought up. The ACLU does a lot of good, bud, despite what Rush Limbaugh has pounded into your head over the years.

      1. I mostly consider myself libertarian but differ on certain subjects from other libertarians. Ive worked in the prison system and seen how it functions. You also attack me without even asking about how i see how the system should be changed. The aclu picks and chooses what rights it thinks are important and lines up with the progressive left on the whole, which coincidentally doesnt line up to strongly with libertarian thought. Good try though.

        1. Sorry about the knee-jerk reaction. Ok, I am listening. How do you think the system should be changed?

          1. Theres more tobit than can be easily typed here but here goes. Legalize all drugs. Release all drug related inmates with non violent charges, pardon and give them some kind of base payment to help get restarted. Get rid of virtually all laws associated with drugs excelt for possible dangerous production like meth, and selling to children. Tax the shit of leaglized drugs and use a percentage tob improve prisons for the workers and increase security and also to increase police presence nayionwide.. Look at ways to change basic white collar crimes to fines or community service. All violent felons are either executed or permenantly imprisoned. Ill try to finish later, got work for now.

  2. As a Koch / Reason left-libertarian, I want convicted rapists and murders to vote from behind bars. Especially in Presidential elections. One major problem with executing prisoners (rather than letting them die of old age) is it dramatically decreases the amount of time during which violent criminals can contribute to the political process. And that’s just unacceptable.


  3. Lessee, places with the death penalty, right wing rat holes

    Places without death penalty, 30 percent fewer murders on average

    hmm, funny that

    imagine counterproductive BS coming from right wingers

    1. Baltimore, Chicago, DC and Detroit have the death penalty? No, that’s not right. They have fewer murders? No, that’s not right either.

      Boy, it’s almost like the death penalty has no relationship one way or the other with murder rates.

      And what do you know – that’s what the FBI Crime Statistics actually show. There are lots of factors correlated with US homicide rates. The presence or absence of a death penalty is not among them.

      1. Dont forget saint louis, DC, New orleans, san juan, atlanta, newark, philly, and milwaukee… All right wing theocracies!!!

  4. 167 innocent people have been officially exonerated from death row since 1973
    Is that in the US? Or in Colorado alone? And that is a reason why death row inmates should get the appeals to make sure. But it is not necessarily a reason to abolish the death penalty.
    Understand, I am not necessarily arguing FOR the death penalty, but this doesn’t seem like a compelling reason to abolish it either.

    And BTW: I don’t think we should care what the families of the victim’s think about the death penalty. While they lost their family members, the true victims are the ones who aren’t here anymore, and they can NEVER be heard from.

    1. WE should repeal it because it does not work and is expensive

      People being found innocent later, yet people will complain that the expense is because of appeals

      I have no moral compunction about putting the guilty to death, but when the guilty are often poor and minority it does say something about the justice system

      1. I respect your argument. And I also respect the general POV that from a moral standpoint, executing a person truly guilty of 1st degree murder is perfectly legitimate, but the government can’t be trusted to prove someone is truly guilty.

        But, I often wonder about the poor and minority argument. It could be correlation vs. causation. Are poor and minority people railroaded by the system because they are poor and/or minority? Or do poor and/or minority people commit crime at a higher rate than other demographic groups? I am not arguing either way, I am just asking the question. I don’t think we truly know the complete answer.
        In addition, it can depend on how one chooses to argue the numbers. When one compares the number of black men on death row to the number of black men in the general population at large it seems like there is real racism. However, the number of black men who commit crimes is also very disproportionate to the number of black men in the general population.

    2. Not in Colorado alone. And there’s zero doubt that the 3 meatbags currently on Colorado’s death row belong there.

      Apparently the ACLU considers these dirtbags — along with illegal immigrant rights cases — more worthy of their time than *any* second amendment violations.

  5. 1500 actual executions
    167 found actually innocent

    that is pretty horrific math

    older numbers:
    8,466 death sentences were imposed across the United States from 1973 through 2013.
    3,194 were overturned on appeal, composed as follows. For 523, the underlying statute was declared unconstitutional. For 890, the conviction was overturned. For 1,781, the death penalty was overturned, but guilt was sustained.
    2,979 remain on death row as of Dec. 31, 2013.
    1,359 were executed.
    509 died on death row from suicide or natural causes.
    392 had their sentence commuted by the governor to life in prison.
    33 had some other outcome or a miscellaneous reason for being removed from death row.

  6. Never give the state the power of execution.

    I barely trust them with issuing traffic tickets. I certainly do not trust them with this.

    1. I trust them with nothing. The state doesn’t deserve the power to execute people.

      However, life imprisonment with no chance for parole is no more humane than execution. Putting a human in a cage and killing all hope that he might ever be free is worse treatment than we give to animals we slaughter and eat.

      The other problem: People conveniently forget that a lot of people die in prison, including prison workers who shouldn’t have to risk likely murder to do their jobs. And just because you committed a crime doesn’t mean you should be subject to murder or violence.

      There’s no easy solution. Maybe some people need to just go away somehow, to be away from all other humans.

      I’d almost prefer to leave it up to the victim’s family, or maybe the victim (hmm maybe we have a “victim will” that spells out what we’d want to happen to the perpetrator).

      Doing away with the death penalty is fine by me, but it’s not a complete solution, though the glib liberals of Colorado (my home state) will believe it to be so.

      1. “life imprisonment with no chance for parole is no more humane than execution”
        That’s probably true, but if your innocent, you have at least a shot at exoneration if you’re alive.

    2. Concur. The question is not whether a person should live or die but whether the state should be involved in it.

  7. The problem isn’t the death penalty it’s a justice system corrupted by drug prohibition.

    1. Even without drug prohibition it’s corrupted. I would at least like to see some minimum evidentiary requirements in order for the state to seek the death penalty. Forensic, audio/video, multiple unrelated witnesses, etc.

  8. Problem is not understanding the difference between justice and vengeance

  9. I’m not opposed in principle to the death penalty, and I believe that it can be a deterrent (but isn’t usually). However, I am horrified by the possibility of executing the innocent. Take one specific case: David Westerfield. Convicted and sentenced to death for kidnapping and murdering a little girl, and currently on death row. There were two crime scenes, but no evidence he was at either. There was weak and easily explained evidence consistent with guilt, and strong evidence of innocence. So why was he convicted? I think largely because the media painted him as guilty, thereby persuading the community of his guilt, and inflaming public opinion against him. And the jurors knew the community was angry and wanted a “guilty” verdict.

  10. dang this is crazy

  11. Death penalty should still be allowed but people should make sure that they are executing the right person

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