DENVER, Colo. – Colorado is set to become the 22nd U.S. state to abolish the death penalty after lawmakers on Wednesday approved a repeal bill that Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has pledged to sign into law.
Passage had been virtually certain with Democrats holding a substantial majority in the House — even with several Democratic lawmakers casting “no" votes for the 36-27 repeal approval vote.
The bill, passed by the Democrat-dominated state Senate in January, would apply to offenses charged starting July 1 and would not affect the fate of the three men on Colorado's death row who face execution by lethal injection. But Polis has suggested he might consider clemency for them if asked.
“All clemency requests are weighty decisions that the governor will judge on their individual merits," said Polis spokesman Conor Cahill.
Colorado's last execution was carried out in 1997, when Gary Lee Davis was put to death by lethal injection for the 1986 kidnapping, rape and murder of a neighbor, Virginia May.
Wednesday's vote came after lawmakers spent three days engaging in somber and often emotional death penalty discussions that touched on morality, personal faith, deterrence, discrimination against defendants of color and wrongful convictions.
Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton said all of Colorado's condemned men are from his suburban Denver district, are African-American and that blacks account for just 4% of Colorado’s 5 million residents.
“They’re African-American, they’re males, my age. That’s not justice,” Melton said. “That is the last remnant of Jim Crow there is in Colorado.” He added that he wasn’t absolving them of their crimes.