The Colorado Senate sent a death penalty ban to the Colorado House Friday, a major advancement for a bill that divides Democrats from Democrats, and a few Republicans breaking ranks as well.
Senate Bill 100 passed the upper chamber on a 19-13 vote Friday morning after a lengthy debate and preliminary approval Thursday.
Sen. Rhonda Fields argued against the measure with both reason and personal passion. Two of the three men on Colorado's death row, Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray, are there for the gang-related death of her son, Javad Marshall Fields, and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe. Her son had planned to testify against Owens as a witness in another murder case.
On Friday, Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, one of the co-sponsors of the ban, spoke of Thursday's "profound discussion."
He said he would respect where every legislator comes down "on this multi-faceted issue (that) touches on all kinds of areas of beliefs — religious beliefs, moral beliefs, criminal justice belief, what is justice beliefs.
"All I can do is make up my own mind and, hence, here I am today."
The ban's Senate co-sponsor, Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, said she extended gratitude to Fields.
"You have exemplified just how important it is to listen to one another, and to be able to argue a position so zealously and so masterfully," Gonzales said, turning to Fields in the chamber. "I want to thank you for bringing your whole self to this debate, even when it's been difficult."
Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, who opposes the legislature setting the ban instead of voters, pointed out that this year's bill does not apply to those currently on death row. Either the death penalty is wrong or it's not, he said. The difference, he surmised, is because legislators know Fields.
"Our colleague who we know represents the people in Colorado who are victims of these crimes," Gardner said.
Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, the former Weld County sheriff, said he is pro-life but supports the death penalty "because it's a deterrent and a fitting act of justice. Properly carried out it's the only penalty that truly reflects the enormous value of innocent life."
Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, supports the ban, quoting the Death Penalty Information Center's report than 156 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1979. (The center doesn't take a position on repeal but reports on how it's administered.)
"The opportunity for error, quite frankly, keeps me awake at night, and ought to be in the forefront of all your consciences," he said.
Sen. Jeff Bridges said, "There are demons that walk among us, and how we respond to those demons does no t reflect on their souls. It reflects on ours."
He supports the ban.
Fields, the Senate assistant majority leader, said politics might look easy to those who are not directly in the decision-making seats, yet it is anything but.
"My heart is heavy and my soul is a little empty, because my son is no longer here," she said Friday.
Fields said she believed what Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, had said: Everyone is created in the image of God.
"But you should never underestimate the power of love a mother has for her child," Fields said.
She said anyone who characterized her opposition as a distraction reflected people "who live on easy street" who have not been confronted with violence.
"That is a distraction that deserves our attention," she said, calling that attitude offensive.
She concluded, "Your vote today is going to be recorded in history as to how we feel about victims. It's going to be recorded. Either you support public safety or you don't. Either you support law enforcement or you don't.
"The question is: What side are you on?"
After Fields spoke, Gardner echoed her point with another choice: "Who do you serve and who do you protect?"
Support for the ban had three Republican votes: Tate. Jill and Sen, Kevin Priola of Henderson. Opposition picked up two Democratic votes: Fields and Sen. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge.