Colorado is one of 36 states that maintain a death penalty statute. Two men sit in the Colorado State Penitentiary awaiting execution. The state has executed one man since the penalty was reinstated nationally in 1976.
A bill that has been introduced in the State House — House Bill 1274 — would abolish the death penalty and move the money spent on it to fund the Colorado Bureau of Investigation cold case unit.
District Attorney Thom LeDoux said he opposes the bill, as do several other D.A.s in the state.
“I think it serves as a deterrent, there are some circumstances where it is appropriate,” LeDoux said.
While the death penalty raises ethical and religious issues for many people, the legal process of reaching the penalty, appealing and ultimately getting an execution is extremely complex.
“It’s like me explaining how to do brain surgery,” said Denver defense attorney David Lane, who has defended about 50 death penalty cases.
Capital punishment has a long history in Colorado. Noverto Griego was the first person executed in the state in 1890.
According to the Colorado Department of Corrections Web site, executions were performed by hanging until 1933 and then by the gas chamber until 1967. Colorado executed 77 men between 1890 and 1967.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional in 1972 and then reversed itself in 1976. The Colorado General Assembly revised its statutes in 1984 to reinstate the death penalty.
On Oct. 13, 1997, the state executed Gary Lee Davis by lethal injection. It was the first and only execution since the death penalty was reinstated.
“This state has spent tens of millions of dollars since 1980 all for the fun of executing Gary Lee Davis,” Lane said.
The death penalty is only a sentencing option for first degree murder, and the district attorney can choose whether or not to seek it.