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Colorado House votes to abolish death penalty; Gov. Polis to sign

Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Colorado's House of Representatives voted to abolish the death penalty Wednesday.

The 38-27 vote on the legislation, SB20-100, puts Colorado one signature away from being the 22nd state to eliminate capital punishment.

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"Today, the House sent legislation to the governor to repeal the death penalty in Colorado," said Speaker of the House KC Becker, a Democrat. "Humans are not infallible, and no system of justice can ever be perfect.

"The finality of the death penalty means that a mistake could not be corrected, and the potential for injustice is too great to bear."

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Gov. Jared Polis has said he plans to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

Colorado's Senate passed the legislation Jan. 31 with a 19-13 vote.

"The death penalty is applied inconsistently and it is the one punishment in our entire justice system that can't be undone or corrected," the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, a Democrat, said. "Across the nation, over 165 people have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death since 1973."

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The legislation bans the death penalty as a punishment for any crime committed after July 1, 2020. It's not retroactive for the three people currently sitting on death row -- Nathan Dunlap, Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray.

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.

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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, 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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Colorado's current lethal injection protocol includes three drugs -- sodium thiopental, which causes loss of consciousness; pancuronium bromide, a paralytic; and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest. The state has had difficulties obtaining the first drug, sodium thiopental because the only U.S. producer, Hospira Inc., stopped making it in 2011, and the European Union blocked its countries from exporting it for use in executions.

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