Colorado House Speaker KC Becker can barely wait to kill Colorado’s death penalty. Senate Assistant Minority leader Rhonda Fields wants to save it.
Fields made her case Friday before the Senate approved a death penalty repeal bill for future convicts.
“I understand that this is a deeply personal issue for every single lawmaker,” Becker said.
Be assured, Fields understands this as a “deeply personal issue” in a way Becker cannot.
Becker lives in Boulder, an upscale community surrounded by 45,000 acres of open space that buffers it from metro Denver. Residents talk of a “real world” outside the green zone. Bumper stickers call the town “25 square miles surrounded by reality.” The city’s statistical murder rate is 0%. The rate of violent crimes per 100,000 is substantially lower than the statewide rate of 3.97. Wealth buys the community disproportionate statewide political influence, with nearly all legislative majority leaders and the governor hailing from Boulder.
That is the lens through which Becker forms a “deeply personal” view of the death penalty.
Fields, an African American, lives in a different world 45 minutes southeast of Becker’s hometown. Aurora, a diverse community without a buffer, has a violent crime rate nearly double the state average and a murder rate nearly three times higher than in Boulder. Think “real world.”
On the streets of Aurora, two armed criminals gunned down Fields’ son and future daughter-in-law. It was a calculated, cold-blooded murder in 2005 that left a car riddled with bullet holes. Fields’ happy, middle-class soccer mom’s life was over.
“There’s this dull ache that’s just there all the time,” Fields told The Gazette on Saturday. “I will never have closure. I will never be made whole. I will never see my son get married, and I will never hold his kids. I will never see him get his first professional job.”
Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe, recent college graduates, were headed to suburban Washington, D.C. Marshall-Fields would attend Georgetown for a master’s degree. Before leaving, he would testify about drug dealers who gunned down his friend during a picnic at Aurora’s Lowry Park. The suspects, free on bond, successfully plotted to kill Marshall-Fields to prevent his testimony. They are two of Colorado’s three death-row inmates.
That’s the lens through which Fields forms her “deeply personal” view of capital punishment. Her parents died prematurely after the murders.
“They sat through the trials and heard gruesome details,” Fields told us. “They suffered in silence to be strong for me. My dad was a Vietnam vet, and he expressed how helpless he felt that he could protect his country in war but could not protect his grandson. My parents died of broken hearts.”
Having passed the Senate with the capitulation of a few Republicans, including Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, the measure heads to the House. Rep. Dave Williams has a “deeply personal” conviction to stop the bill with a minority filibuster.
“I will use every tactic possible and shut down the government, if necessary,” said Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican.
He hopes for adequate support to bog the measure and force a major concession. He wants a final bill that puts the death penalty repeal on a ballot.
Williams cites a Quinnipiac poll that found 63% of Coloradans supported execution for the Aurora theater shooter, who killed 12 and injured 70 in 2012. A jury gave the killer a life sentence.
“Voters should decide whether we have this option,” Fields told The Gazette.
“When the people give a death sentence, it isn’t about Boulder, or Denver, or KC Becker — it’s the people of the community who come back with a guilty verdict. From there it goes to a death penalty phase. Convicts are judged and evaluated by normal citizens.”
Few individuals lost sleep when the federal government executed the Oklahoma City bomber. The public shed no tears when Colorado executed the man who killed 39 by bombing United Flight 629 over Longmont in 1955 — the state’s largest massacre. Colorado executed the killer in 1957.
We need the ultimate penalty for premeditated heinous murders in which there can be no doubt of a convict’s guilt. It is a matter of equitable accountability.
Colorado has never taken the death penalty lightly. Voters last reinstated it in 1974. Since then, the state has carried out one execution, involving a confessed convict of kidnapping, murder and rape.
Even the monstrous Chuck E. Cheese killer has survived 24 years past his sentence. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper lacked the leadership to carry out or commute the execution, opting to pass the responsibility to a successor.
Hickenlooper kept the public in the dark about an investigation into the 2013 assassination of former Department of Corrections chief Tom Clements in Monument. Some in law enforcement believe releasing details of the inquiry would expose prisoners with life sentences who are involved in criminal enterprises — convicts whose activities help justify the death penalty.
House Republicans and Democrats should assist Rep. Williams in slowing down this effort to overturn a law enacted by voters. Lead for ordinary people. At the very least, allow voters to decide whether the public maintains this potential penalty for a handful of the cruelest, most calculated and vicious “real world” killers.