Sen. Rhonda Fields

State Sen. Rhonda Fields speaks in favor of a paid family leave program on the states of the state Capitol on Feb. 6, 2018, in Denver.

State Sen. Rhonda Fields has erected a thick wall of reality between knowledge of how the political system works and the grief she feels and justice she wants for her dead son. In some ways, Gov. Jared Polis is the architect of that wall.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to the bill last week, but the ban still must make it through the 65-member House before reaching the governor's desk to become law.

Fields, the much-respected lawmaker from Aurora, can count votes, too, and she can see that the fellow Democrats advocating for a ban on the death penalty have the votes to pass it out of the Senate.

Perhaps more than any other piece of legislation in her nine-year career in the legislature, the question of the death penalty strikes close to Fields.

Two of the three men on Colorado's death row — Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens — are there because they killed Fields' son in 2005 before he could testify against Owens as a witness to a murder.

"They have the votes this year," Fields said two days before before a Thursday debate on the Senate floor. "I'm just going to wait and see how it plays out on the floor. I'm not going to invest a lot of emotion in it, because it's out of my control."

If the bill becomes law, the ban would apply to sentences handed out after July 1, if Polis signs it into law, as he has said he would.

RELATED: Bill to repeal death penalty advances after hours of debate

In Senate Bill 100's first committee hearing, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler predicted that as soon as Polis signs the bill, he would then commute the sentences of the three men on Colorado's death row to life in prison.

Fields told Colorado Politics after the committee hearing that she had not yet spoken with Polis about the death penalty or the possibility he might spare the life of the two men convicted of killing her son, Javad Marshall Fields, and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe.

"I don't think he should be making those kinds of declarations without talking to the families of the victims," Fields said. "There is a victims' bill of rights, and part of it is notification when someone's sentence is going to be altered.

"I'm hoping I'll be notified if he does decide to take that action."

She said Owens and Ray are still appealing their convictions, so she's not sure the governor can, nor should, interfere with that process by commuting their sentences.

"I would tell him it's not a good idea," she said of reducing their death sentences. "I would tell him to trust the jury. Twelve jurors and the prosecution worked really hard to present and convict in this case. They heard all the evidence and a lot of work went into those decisions. 

"He would be undoing all their work. A lot of work went into that. A lot of time went into that, and he would be circumventing what a judge has already rendered based on the evidence."

Pressed on how she feels about it, personally, Fields stuck to the facts. She said families have to accept that criminals don't serve their full sentence all the time.

"Some things are in my scope of control and some things are not," Fields said. "If the governor decides to commute the sentence to life in jail without parole, there's nothing I can do about it."

While Polis has told reporters he supports a death penalty repeal and awaits the legislation's arrival for his signature, the governor's office said Tuesday that he has made no decision on clemency.

“There are currently no clemency requests involving the death penalty before the governor," his spokesman, Conor Cahill, said. "All clemency requests are weighty decisions that the Governor will judge on their individual merits.  If the legislature repeals the death penalty, that is one of many factors he would consider along with all of the facts surrounding the case.” 

Sen. Bob Gardner, a Republican from Colorado Springs, tried and failed to amend the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor, to refer the question to the statewide ballot in November and let voters decide. A death penalty repeal has been presented in the Colorado General Assembly in six of the last 13 sessions, and it was considered but not introduced in six others.

Not much has changed in any of the proposals. 

Respect for Fields has given lawmakers pause in the past, however.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.