Death penalty too costly, group says

Use money to solve cold cases, backers of House bill say

If it takes repealing the death penalty to free up money to solve unsolved homicides, Howard Morton will take that scenario.

Others, such as Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, aren’t willing to make that jump.

Morton is the head of Families of Homicide Victims & Missing Persons, a group of about 500 members that has long pushed law enforcement to investigate cold cases. It requires money, though, and Morton said the funding would be freed up if there was no need to allocate funds for the death penalty.

House Bill 1274 would do that by repealing the death penalty. The bill has been introduced by House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville.

The move would used the savings from abolishing the death penalty to fund a cold-case team headed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The bill is slated for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 23.

Weissmann made the proposed in 2007, and the bill narrowly was defeated on the House floor.

Morton thinks it may have a shot this year.

“If we can get through the judiciary committee, we just might have a chance,” said Morton, who has been tirelessly lobbying lawmakers. “I think it will be down to a one-vote margin.”

He said he knows he won’t get King’s vote.

King said he supports funding for cold-case investigations, but not at the expense of repealing the death penalty. He said the issue is political and debate emotional.

“I told them I’ll do everything I can to be an advocate for you and the victim, but I will not turn Colorado away from criminals paying the ultimate price,” King said, referring to talks with Morton on the matter.

In the past 30 years, only one person in Colorado has been executed, and only two men are on death row today, Morton said. He said $1 million from state’s $3 million in funding each year for the death penalty could go toward cold-case investigations. That could give investigators reason to crack back open the files on 1,420 unsolved murder cases.

According to Morton’s group, Grand Junction and Mesa County have 14 unsolved homicide cases in the past few decades. Although Colorado law enforcement agencies are required by law to investigate cold cases, there is no direct funding to do so.


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