Death penalty repeal bill still close call

A final House vote on repealing the death penalty in Colorado will be close, and the measure might yet fail, said a death-penalty proponent.

The measure passed the House last week on second reading, but five Democrats voted against the measure.

That led state Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, to speculate House Bill 1274 might not have the votes it will need on a roll-call vote.

King said he was considering speaking against the measure Monday. It’s unusual for legislators to speak before third-reading votes because the votes are usually considered to be decided at that point.

King opposes the measure, citing the arrest of Jerry Louis Nemnich in the 35-year-old killings of Linda and Kelley Benson in Grand Junction. The measure would spare Nemnich the possibility of capital punishment.

The bill, which proposes to divert money from capital prosecutions to solving cold cases, has pitted law enforcement officials against relatives of cold-case murder victims, King said.

“We’re seeing a breakdown in the relationship” between those groups, which have worked closely together for years, he said. “Using victims’ families to try to push through a repeal sort of creates a rift.”

Tying together a death-penalty repeal and additional funding for cold cases “was brilliant strategy,” said state Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran.

Much of the House debate on the bill was overshadowed by budget maneuvering, Bradford said.

If it moves through the House, “it needs a good, thorough vetting and debate” on the Senate floor, she said.

Colorado has more than 1,400 cold cases. Legislative analysts said the bill could direct about $883,000 a year toward solving cold-case killings.


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