Many lawmakers indicated surprise and some indignation earlier this month when state Rep. Paul Weissmann proposed abolishing the death penalty in Colorado and using some of the proceeds to create a cold case unit designed to crack an estimated 1,200 unsolved murders.
The two issues, some said, should be separated. One lawmaker, Amy Stephens, a Republican from Monument, said that she thought voters should decide whether to abolish the death penalty. Attorney General John Suthers claimed the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime; others have noted it has only been used once in 40 years.
“We don’t use the death penalty, so why do we have it?” asked Weissmann, a Democrat from Louisville. Further, lean times and a tight budget inspired his proposal, he argued, to be able to fund a program to catch murderers.
He estimated $40.5 million has been spent, futilely, on death-penalty cases since Colorado’s last execution in 1998. Meanwhile, Colorado is adding another 40 unsolved murders to the roster every year.After more than four hours of testimony on Feb. 7, Weissmann’s bill passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee. This week, a second bill– also to create a statewide cold case unit – was passed through the same committee.
Sponsored by Rep. Joe Rice and Sen. John Morse, both Democrats, House Bill 1272 would create a cold case unit to investigate unsolved homicides, as well as create a 13-member oversight task force that would report to the legislature. Unlike Weissmann’s proposal, however, the Rice-Morse plan does not incoporate a death penalty abolition provision into the equation.
The new interest in solving homicides that have remained open for years – in some cases decades – is sure to be a relief to dozens of family members of murdered Coloradans.
Many of them, loosely connected via an organization called Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, testified and support both Weissmann’s and Rice’s bills – describing and showing photographs of their slain husbands, children, brothers, sisters.
And, many have for several years been agitating for resources to try to crack crimes that have gone unsolved. Among the dead: