Colorado Senate bill takes death penalty in wrong direction.
It’s not easy getting a Colorado jury to reach unanimous agreement that a killer should be put to death— in fact it’s become next to impossible even in cases of mass killings. But rather than resign themselves to that reality, six proponents of the death penalty in the state Senate would rig the system to ensure more criminals are put to death.
Perhaps “rig” is too harsh a word. But not by much. Lowering the threshold for a death sentence from 12 jurors to nine, as is proposed in Senate Bill 64, is a huge shift. It would put Colorado in a small minority of states— Florida, Alabama and Delaware— that either don’t require unanimous juries to impose a death sentence or allow a judge to overrule a jury that prefers a life sentence.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, RBerthoud, the bill’s lead sponsor, freely admits that frustration with recent jury results led him to this proposal.
“If anything was deserving of the death penalty, I’d say that’s it the Aurora ( theater) shooting,” Lundberg told 7News. “I think we need to come to terms with: Are we going to have a death penalty that functions in Colorado or are we just going to put it in name only and not really have the death penalty?”
Lundberg has a point in the sense that if juries are unwilling to put to death the likes of James Holmes, the theater shooter, or Dexter Lewis, found guilty last year of five murders at a bar in Denver, then the death penalty in its present form is no longer a viable option in the overwhelmingly majority of murders. But the logical response to that fact is to abolish the penalty, not lower the standard under which it is imposed.
It’s true, of course, that SB 64 would affect only the sentencing phase of the trial and that a unanimous jury would still be required to find the defendant guilty of a capital crime. But this isn’t just any sentence. It’s the only one that is irrevocable once carried out, the only one that nearly everyone recognizes is in a category of its own.
If a jury that finds a defendant guilty can’t agree that he deserves the death sentence, then it shouldn’t be imposed.