By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) – The Colorado governor signed a repeal of the death penalty law on Monday and sentenced all three prisoners sentenced to death to life without parole, receiving harsh criticism from a prosecutor whose office the convict was sentenced to men continued.
Governor Jared Polis’s action to sign the withdrawal was expected, as he had supported the abolition of the death penalty discussed in state law last month, but the fate of those sentenced to death remained unknown until Monday.
Polis said in a statement that he spared the lives of the prisoners, not because of a change in their individual cases, but to reflect the new legislation.
“The commutation of these despicable and guilty individuals is consistent with the abolition of the death penalty in the state of Colorado,” said Polis, a first-term Democrat.
The move was overturned by Arapahoe County Prosecutor George Brauchler, whose predecessors were sentenced to death and sentenced to death for all three prisoners sentenced to death.
“With just a stroke and buried under the cover of an urgent global pandemic, Gov Polis swept away three separate unanimous jury verdicts for some of the worst killers in our state’s history,” said Brauchler, a Republican.
Colorado has executed only one prisoner by lethal injection since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976 after a four-year nationwide moratorium.
Twenty-eight states still have death penalty statutes in their books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The death penalty also remains in the criminal code of the federal government and the U.S. military justice systems.
Since 2004, 22 states have abolished the death penalty through legislative or legal action, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, which is monitoring the matter. Five prisoners were executed this year in the United States.
According to the new Colorado law, prosecutors can no longer demand the death penalty in a murder case filed after July 1.
The death sentence for a man accused of murdering a police officer started this month in a Denver suburb, but was interrupted until April 6 due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Michael Perry)