Colorado Gov. Polis signs bill abolishing death penalty, commutes sentences of 3 inmates

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March 23 (UPI) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed legislation making the state the 22nd to abolish the death penalty.

In addition to signing the bill, he commuted the death sentences of three death row inmates. Nathan Dunlap, Mario Owens and Robert Ray will now serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Commutations are typically granted to reflect evidence of extraordinary change in the offender. That is not why I am commuting these sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole,” Polis said. “Rather, the commutations of these despicable and guilty individuals are consistent with the abolition of the death penalty in the state of Colorado, and consistent with the recognition that the death penalty cannot be, and never has been, administered equitably in the state of Colorado.”

Polis’ signature comes nearly a month after Colorado’s House of Representatives voted to repeal the state’s death penalty law. Colorado’s Senate passed the legislation Jan. 31 with a 19-13 vote.

The legislation bans the death penalty as a punishment for any crime committed after July 1, 2020. It’s not retroactive for Dunlap, Owens and Ray, hence Polis’ commutation.

Colorado has executed one person — Gary Davis in 1997 — since the death penalty was reinstated in the state in 1974.

In 2013, former Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order granting an indefinite stay of execution for Dunlap, saying the state’s system for capital punishment “is not flawless.” It was considered to be an unofficial moratorium on the punishment in the state.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Colorado’s move to abolish the death penalty is part of a growing trend in the United States, with one state dropping the form of punishment every year or two over the past decade.

“In most of the country, the death penalty is disappearing,” he told UPI in February, pointing out that after New Hampshire abolished it last year, no state in New England allows the punishment.

“When California imposed a moratorium [in 2019], it meant that for the first time since the 1970s, more than half of the U.S. population and 25 states altogether either didn’t have the death penalty or had an executive order in place saying there’d be no executions,” Dunham said.

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