Polis signed Senate Bill 20-100 into law on Monday making Colorado the 22nd state to abolish the death sentence after it was reinstated in 1974.
The bill will take effect on July 1 and has no retrospective effect, meaning that theoretically new death sentences could still be handed down before that date.
The bill also doesn’t affect those already sentenced to death who are awaiting their execution by lethal injection set to take place before or after July 1. However, Polis commuted the sentences of three men on death row into life sentences without 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 in a statement.
“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,” he added.
Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty activist and author welcomed the move, saying on Twitter: “Colorado just officially became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty. Gov. Polis signed the repeal bill into law and commuted all remaining death sentences to life without parole. Thank you to @GovofCO, Colorado legislators, and every person who made this possible!”
NEWS: Colorado just officially became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty. Gov. Polis signed the repeal bill into law and commuted all remaining death sentences to life without parole. Thank you to @GovofCO, Colorado legislators, and every person who made this possible!
— Sister Helen Prejean (@helenprejean) March 23, 2020
Shari Silberstein, executive director of advocacy group Equal Justice USA, said in a statement, “With Gov. Polis’s signature, the state liberated itself from one of the most glaring failures of the legal system and is charting a new path toward justice.”
The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House and Senate in February and January respectively. It had met with considerable resistance from conservative lawmakers, mostly Republicans but also some Democrats, and relatives of the victims of the crimes committed by the three men that were awaiting their death sentences, Robert Ray, Sir Mario Owens, and Nathan Dunlap.
George Brauchler, a district attorney in Colorado, slammed the decision in a statement on Monday.
“There are a few in Colorado today who will cheer the sparing of the lives of these cold-blooded murderers,” Brauchler said, according to The New York Times. “For the rest of Colorado, make no mistake: We will save no money. We are not safer. We are not a better people. And the only lives spared are those who commit the ultimate acts of evil against us.”