Even in the midst of coronavirus shut-downs, we have an opportunity today to celebrate. Today, Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 100 repealing the death penalty in Colorado and clearing death row. This long-overdue achievement makes Colorado the 22nd state to repeal the death penalty, finally ending this broken, costly, and unjust system in our state.
As I complete my last month as Executive Director of the ACLU of Colorado after almost eight years in this position, I am particularly happy to see death penalty repeal happen this month. I am not alone in celebrating this achievement after many years of working to end the death penalty. This goal has been a priority of our staff in all my years at the ACLU, including for our Public Policy Director Denise Maes. Denise clerked for Chief Justice Quinn, who wrote the dissent in the death penalty decision for Gary Davis, the only person to be executed in Colorado since 1967. Our Legal Director Mark Silverstein began his ACLU career working on behalf of clients facing the death penalty in Southern California before he came to the ACLU of Colorado 23 years ago. Two of our first staff hired to work on a specific issue were Lindsay Schlageter and Stacy Anderson, who led our death penalty repeal efforts for at least two years. After another repeal effort last year that did not succeed, our Public Policy Associate Helen Griffiths took up the mantle of death penalty repeal this year. Her dedicated and outstanding work played a key role in finally getting it done in this legislative session. Several other staff, including on our Director of Communications Vanessa Michel and Media Strategist Deanna Hirsch were instrumental to this year’s success.
Many people beyond the ACLU of have dedicated themselves for years to the goal of repealing the death penalty in Colorado, including dozens of family members of murder victims who had the courage to express their opposition to the death penalty, often at great personal cost. We have had so many partners in Colorado who have played key roles in death penalty repeal, from Phil Cherner to David Lane to the Interfaith Alliance and Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Carla Turner, I wish you were here to see this day. Beyond Colorado, we are grateful to so many people who have supported this effort from Sister Helen Prejean to David Menschel.
We honor and respect the lives and perspectives of those who opposed death penalty repeal, and it was an essential part of this process that all voices have an opportunity to be heard. It is a difficult issue for many people, but we have come to learn the reasons that the death penalty should be a thing of the past: it does not deter crime, it is arbitrary and often discriminatory in its application, it lengthens the trial process and is much more costly than alternatives, it places a heavy burden on those who must carry it out, and it can and does make fatal, irreversible mistakes. Historically, the death penalty has been used more to persecute people for political or religious dissent than in response to serious crime, and it is a power that should not be in the hands of any government.
There is still work to do, since it does not make sense to have a death penalty case still being tried when the death penalty has been repealed going forward. We also will need to ensure that this victory continues to be upheld and protected in the future. But today, working from home through the end of the month, I am grateful to celebrate this capstone to so many years of work by so many people to repeal the death penalty in our state.
ACLU of Colorado Executive Director, Nathan Woodliff-Stanley