DENVER – Democrats eager to repeal Colorado’s death penalty will have to do so at their own political risk, according to a new poll showing widespread support for capital punishment in the Centennial State.
The poll was conducted by prominent national pollster Dave Sackett, a founding partner at The Tarrance Group – one of the most well-known public opinion research firms American politics.
According to a memo outlining the key findings of the poll obtained by The Colorado Observer, “Colorado voters are opposed to ending the death penalty in the state, and they believe this should be the penalty for accused Aurora killer James Holmes.”
The results of the survey back that conclusion, with a whopping 68 percent of poll respondents saying they oppose abolishing the death penalty in Colorado, compared to just 27 percent who said they favored an end to capital punishment.
When asked specifically whether accused Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes should receive the death penalty, those polled said he should by margin of more than 2 to 1 (59 percent to 27 percent).
Support for the death penalty jumped to 69 percent when respondents were told that abolishing the death penalty could lead to overturning Nathan Dunlap’s convictions for the grisly 1996 murders of four Denver-area Chuck E. Cheese restaurant employees.
Backing for capital punishment was consistent across political party lines, with a majority of Republicans (81 percent), Democrats (57 percent) and Independents (66 percent) all opposed to outlawing Colorado’s death penalty.
Even self-described “liberals” were evenly split on the question, with 49 percent saying they opposed scrapping capital punishment.
Opposition to abolishing the death penalty was also consistent across gender lines, with both men (72 percent) and women (63 percent) opposing efforts to end capital punishment.
With Democrats seizing control of the Colorado Legislature in November, many political observers believe that abolishing the death penalty will be a key agenda item for the newly minted Democratic majority.
Legislative Democrats came within just one-vote of repealing Colorado’s death penalty the last time they controlled both houses of the legislature. The lead sponsor of that proposal, Senator Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora), is now the Majority Leader of the State Senate, arguably wielding more control over the chamber’s legislative agenda than any other single member.
In 2009, Carroll characterized her proposal to ban the death penalty as one that would have “traded vengeance for justice.”
In the State House, where Democrats will soon enjoy a 38-27 majority over Republicans, supporters of capital punishment face an uphill battle.
“We haven’t had a conversation in some time about the death-penalty, so I don’t think anyone has a head count,” outgoing House Speaker Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) told The Observer earlier this month. “I would not support a repeal of capital punishment in Colorado, and I would suspect there are Democrats who feel the same way.”
Carroll’s 2009 proposal to abolish the death penalty cleared the then-Democrat controlled State House by one vote.
But not all Democrats share Carroll’s view.
State Representative Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), whose son Javad Marshall Fields and his fiancee Vivian Wolfe were gunned down in 2005 after he agreed to testify in a homicide case, has suggested the question should be settled by Colorado voters, not legislators.
The two men who killed Fields’ son and his fiancee, Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray, were convicted and are now awaiting execution on Colorado’s Death Row.
“Colorado lawmakers should not slam the door on justice for those who commit heinous crimes,” Fields told the Denver Post over the weekend. “I believe that society must be protected, and the voters should decide the fate of capital punishment.”
Carroll’s anti-death penalty crusade will likely face another high powered opponent: Senate President John Morse (D-Colo. Springs). In 2009, Morse crossed party lines, partnering with Republicans in a feverish behind the scenes bid to kill the death penalty repeal.
The poll, commissioned by the non-partisan Colorado Justice Alliance, surveyed of 600 likely voters between December 4 and December 6 – more than a week before the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut – and has margin of error of + / – 4.1 percentage points.