Death penalty sustained in Senate

Colorado’s death penalty survived a last-minute effort in the Legislature to revive a deal that would have repealed it and put more money toward solving cold cases.

The Senate voted 18-17 Wednesday afternoon to reject a House measure that called for repeal of the death penalty and two new pots of money to be devoted to solving old murder cases.

Senators on both sides invoked religion and morality in an emotional debate in which the president of the Senate, Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, said the Legislature had no business playing God with murderers.

Only “the will of divine providence decides that life is over,” Groff said.

Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the death penalty “is what justice requires” in certain egregious cases, such as mass murderers like Ted Bundy.

The measure ultimately rejected by the Senate was crafted in the House to reject a compromise forged by Penry and Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, that retained the death penalty and established new court fees to raise about $1 million a year for cold-case investigations.

The Senate vote left the death penalty intact and directed no new money to cold cases.

The end result left Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger frustrated.

“I feel really bad for the families of cold-case victims who were co-opted and hung out to dry in the 11th hour,” Hautzinger said.

It was during the legislative debate over the measure that Mesa County law enforcement made arrests in two cold cases, the 34-year-old killings of Linda and Kelley Benson, and the 20-year-old killing of Charles Porter, Hautzinger said.

The arrests showed that law enforcement could solve cases without the cold-case money contemplated in the legislation, Hautzinger said.

“It should be abundantly clear” that the debate was about the death penalty and not solving cold cases, Hautzinger said.

Penry urged rejection of the measure, citing public support for the death penalty in Colorado. He said the proposal offered by the House was a “false choice.”

Groff urged death-penalty opponents to “seize this opportunity yet again to actually be the moral voice of the state” and said if opponents were to lose elections because of their stands, “then so be it.”


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