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Death penalty: As legislators consider repeal, John Morse says he's now supportive

Sen. John Morse.jpg
John Morse.
With the new year comes a new legislative session, and there's already talk about a potential effort to repeal the death penalty in Colorado.

And John Morse, a Democrat and the new president of the Senate, says he is likely to support a repeal. This would be a major shift from his previous stance on the matter -- and it will be a personal struggle for him, he says.

The Denver Post and other local outlets are reporting this week that Boulder Representative Claire Levy, a Democrat, is considering legislation to repeal the death penalty in the state.

As the Post notes, that debate is sure to be highly charged given recent high-profile crimes in the state, including the Aurora theater shooting in which suspect James Holmes killed twelve and injured dozens more and the abduction and killing of ten-year-old Jessica Ridgeway. Holmes' defense is expected to argue that he is mentally ill, which would prevent him from facing the death penalty, and Austin Reed Sigg, the seventeen-year-old Ridgeway suspect, is too young to face the death penalty.

Our recent cover story, "Lethal Election," explored how questions of the death penalty was impacting the race for district attorney in Arapahoe County, where Holmes will be tried.

Morse, who represents Colorado Springs, was asked about a possible call to repeal near the end of a recent pre-legislative forum for reporters, at which gun control dominated the conversation.

Pre-legislative forum.JPG
Sam Levin
Senate President John Morse, second to right, addresses reporters at pre-legislative forum.

"There's almost always folks in my caucus [interested in a repeal]," he said. "A couple years ago when that bill was up...I voted no for the repeal, so to keep the death penalty. I do think that in the State of Colorado, it is well-administered. So there's an argument to keep the death penalty for that purpose, and...that it could be on the books for situations like Aurora and like Columbine."

Still, he said, he recognizes in those kinds of horrific tragedies that the perpetrators are often so profoundly mentally ill the death penalty isn't even an option. "It costs a lot of money to keep the death penalty on the books, as the public defender's office then has to have a team ready to defend against it any time that it's filed," he added.

Pointing to a common criticism of the death penalty, he said, "I also recognize that the current folks that are all on death row all happen to be African-American males. The sample size is small, so it's hard to say that therefore it's discriminatory. But at the same time, they are 100 percent African-American and there are arguments throughout the country that it is disproportionately applied and therefore should be eliminated."

He continued, "If, in fact, it is introduced as a bill this year, I will struggle with it, but likely end up voting to repeal it, if somebody introduces it this year."

He added, "I think there's talk about it all the time."

The three death row inmates in Colorado are black. The state has executed one person since the penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Representative Mark Ferrandino, the new speaker in Colorado, told reporters that he has spoken to both interest groups and other legislators about the death penalty, and said his opinion has not changed on the matter. "I voted in favor of a repeal and would continue to be in favor of repealing the death penalty," he said.

More from our Politics archive: "Video: Diana DeGette pushes for immediate vote on high-capacity magazine ban"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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20 comments
Jack Thursby
Jack Thursby

"So I have to feed and water them and give them a free gym membership for life? No thanks..." Death row inmates receive these "perks" already, not to mention the costs associated with a lengthy appeals process. Average time on death row is over a decade. Try again.

Deborah Watts
Deborah Watts

I can hardly wait for the highly moral teachers union to have guns! TEACHERS only have PROVEN to ABUSE children..GIVE THEM GUNS and ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS drivers licences! HELL..O NEGLIGENT COLORADO GOVERNMENT..YA TAKING MENTAL HEALTH DRUGS?

Deborah Watts
Deborah Watts

NO need for the death penalty..we have POLICE and soon teachers with guns! AND almost ANYONE else that wants a gun and 10000 rounds of ammo have EASY usage! DO YOU really think ALL the 100000s of 1000s illegal immigrants have NO GUNS?

Mark Ball
Mark Ball

The punishment should fit the crime, and judging by the amount of times the justice department has been totally wrong, we should err on the side of caution. Just google DNA evidence and you will be amazed.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

The last person executed in Colorado was Gary Lee Davis, in October of  1997 . Mr. Davis was white .

Nathan Dunlap, the Chuck-E-Cheese slaughterer, has remained on death row since the mid '90's and when asked, " Who is Nathan Dunlap ? ", most have forgotten or haven't a clue .

I assure you 'Life' is FAR worse than death, when considering spending the remainder of your life incarcerated . Suicide is much more humane ending than the alternative and I will NEVER understand how a violent killer is so afraid to end their own lives ????

JimTom
JimTom

I bet he supports abortion.

I am pretty sure the 2 dead firefighters in NY would rather have had the death penalty giving to their killer instead of a plea bargain when he killed his grandmother with a hammer.  

Chris Estus
Chris Estus

Sure we need to let the killers out someday also. Like the guy in NY that killed his grandmother with a hammer and gets out 17 years later so he can kill his sister and 2 firefighters. Maybe the death penalty would have helped here instead of a plea bargain.

Jeff Johnston
Jeff Johnston

So I have to feed and water them and give them a free gym membership for life? No thanks...

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Death is NOT a Penalty.

think about it.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@Chris Estus  ... that include the Death "penalty" for murderous U$ Soldiers / War Criminals?

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