Colo. may end death penalty

Associated Press / May 4, 2009
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DENVER - Colorado is one of 10 states that have considered abolishing the death penalty this year to save money, but Colorado's proposal has a twist: It would use the savings to investigate about 1,400 unsolved slayings.

The measure has sparked fierce debate between prosecutors and some victims' families. Prosecutors want to keep capital punishment as an option for heinous crimes, and they say the bill has raised unrealistic hopes about solving cold cases.

Supporters of the bill say it's more important to find and prosecute killers still on the loose.

"The death penalty is not relevant without a murderer brought to trial," said Laurie Wiedeman, the sister of 17-year-old Gay Lynn Dixon, whose 1982 slaying remains unsolved. "I would like to see the person who killed my sister put to death. But to have that person free to run around and committing other crimes?"

Abolishing Colorado's death penalty would save about $1 million a year, according to a legislative analysis.

Supporters of the repeal measure want that money diverted to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations cold case unit, which has just one staffer. The extra money could add eight people to the unit, the analysis said.

Proponents also say the death penalty is so rarely used that it's not a deterrent.

Colorado has executed only one person in the past 42 years.

The Colorado House narrowly passed the measure, and the Senate is expected to vote before the session ends Wednesday.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and all but one of the state's district attorneys oppose the bill. "A million dollars doesn't buy you a lot of cold case investigation," Suthers said.