Colorado officially abolished the death penalty in the state on Monday, becoming the 22nd state to do so since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.
The bill bans capital punishment for defendants convicted of Class 1 felonies in Colorado beginning July 1, but does not automatically commute the sentences of those already on death row awaiting execution by lethal injection.
However, Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed the legislation banning the death penalty and commuted the sentences of the three individuals on death row in Colorado to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Commutations are typically granted to reflect evidence of extraordinary change in the offender. That is not why I am commuting these sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole,” Polis said in a statement.
“Rather, the commutations of these despicable and guilty individuals are consistent with the abolition of the death penalty in the State of Colorado, and consistent with the recognition that the death penalty cannot be, and never has been, administered equitably in the State of Colorado,” the governor said, adding that he understands that “some victims agree with my decision and others disagree.”
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler slammed the legislation, saying it nullifies jury verdicts for serious criminals.
“With a mere stroke of his pen and buried under the coverage of an urgent, global pandemic, Gov Polis wiped away three separate unanimous jury verdicts for some of the worst murderers in our state’s history,” Brauchler said.
Colorado performed its last execution in 1997, when Gary Lee Davis was killed by lethal injection for kidnapping a 33-year-old woman and murdering her.