Death-penalty repeal fizzles in panel

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A Lakewood lawmaker's vote on March 26 was pivotal in defeating a bill that sought to repeal the death penalty in Colorado.

The bill was one of two pieces of legislation having to do with capital punishment that failed to survive at the Capitol in the same week.

Rep. Brittany Pettersen, who was one of two Democrats to vote against House Bill 1264 in the House Judiciary Committee, said in a recent interview that “my voters and my constituents don't support (the repeal).”

“It was a really tough choice,” the freshman lawmaker told Colorado Community Media. “Voting between what I thought should happen and where my district lies, and (hearing) the arguments on both sides. But, ultimately I'm the representative of House District 28.”

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said during the committee hearing that his decision to vote against the bill had nothing to do with the views of his constituents.

“I do not make this vote because of a set view of voters,” Gardner said. “I make it out of a sense of conviction that, for a category of crimes that represent the worst of evils, or for which there is no other specific deterrent, that the death penalty is appropriate.”

Critics of the death penalty have long argued that the punishment is not fairly or consistently applied, and that it does not serve as a deterrent for committing capital crimes. They also have argued that executions disproportionately affect minorities and the poor.

Worse, critics say, the wrong people sometimes end up getting sentenced to death.

“There will be someone, somewhere who will be sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit,” said Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, the committee's chairman. “As long as there are mistakes, there always will be a person who is a victim of that mistake.”

Pettersen and Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, joined all four Republicans on the committee to vote against the repeal. Four Democrats voted for the bill. Democratic Rep. Mike McLachlan of Durango was absent from the hearing due to illness.

The bill lost steam after a recent report from The Denver Post brought up the possibility that Gov. John Hickenlooper might veto the bill.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said he did not believe that the governor's veto threat negatively interfered with the legislative process.

“Him letting us know where he is, is a helpful thing in the process,” Ferrandino recently told the Capitol corps. “It's worse that it gets to the governor's desk, and then we find out that he's not supportive of the legislation.”

Meanwhile, a bill that would have put the death penalty on the ballot was yanked by its own sponsor, the day after House Bill 1264 was voted down.

Rep. Rhonda Fields' House Bill 1270 wasn't meant to go anywhere in the first place. Two men who are convicted of killing Fields' son in 2005 currently are on death row.

“My position has always been that I did not want to see the repeal or the abolishment of the death penalty,” the Aurora Democrat said in a recent interview. “And when (House Bill 1264) died, there was no need for me to bring my bill because it keeps the death penalty on the books.”

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