DENVER – Democrats on the Senate Judicial Committee killed a bill sponsored by Sen. Greg Brophy that would have limited death penalty appeals to a period of three years – instead of 20 years or more.
“The man, who murdered Colleen O’Connor, Benjamin Grant and Sylvia Crowell, has actually has spent more time on death row than those three of four victims spent alive,” Brophy told the committee on Wednesday.
“The murderer spent more time on death row than they spent living,” he said, referring to the three teens, ages 17 to 19. “He killed another lady Marge (Kohlberg) who was 50 years old. She would be 70 now.”
Throughout the committee hearing, the Republican lawmaker from Wray never mentioned the name of the convicted murderer. Some committee members wondered who the killer is – perhaps because the public too readily forgets the names of victims.
The murders were committed by a fired employee of Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora on Dec. 14, 1993, and after a lengthy trial, he was convicted and sentenced to death on May 17, 1996.
The appeals process persisted twice as long – finally ending when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear yet another appeal in February 2013.
“This is a horrendous process that is very hard on the victims’ families,” said Brophy. “The courts shouldn’t allow this process to drag out so long.”
Senate Bill 69, the Swift Justice Act, might have saved money spent on incarceration but cost more in funding public defenders and court-appointed defense attorneys for appeals, said Brophy.
“I believe in the merits of the bill,” declared Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), who added the legislature has the power to set a wide range of judicial decisions.
“My concerns are with the constitutional rights of the defendant,” said Sen. Linda Newell (D-Littleton).
Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction) countered that Coloradans want due process and justice, but they also want balance and fairness.
“The constituents I talk to are not happy with the amount of money and time spent (on death penalty appeals),” said King. The scales of justice, he said, are weighted heavily toward appeals that “go on forever.”
Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver) agreed that the drawn out appeals process is painful for the victims’ families, but the death penalty is the problem.
“It provides way too much notoriety to the killer on trial,” said Johnston. “This is one of the reasons I oppose the death penalty.”
SB69 was defeated on a party line vote with Democrat Sens. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver), Johnston and Newell voting no, and Republicans King and Lundberg voting yes.
The convicted murderer is Nathan Dunlap, who was slated to be executed in August, but was saved by Democrat Gov. Hickenlooper who blocked his execution with an open-ended “temporary reprieve.”