The bill would not affect the death sentences for the three inmates currently on death row, but Polis has said he would commute their sentences if the bill passes, the Colorado Sun reports.
A key preliminary vote of 19 to 15 on Jan. 30 was split largely along party lines. Republican State Sens. Kevin Priola, Jack Tate, and Owen Hill, all co-sponsors of the bill, voted in favor. Democratic Sens. Rhonda Fields and Jessie Danielson voted against it.
The final vote, held Jan. 31, passed 19 to 13.
Tate said he thought the death penalty is ineffective and expensive and risks “executing an innocent person.” Priola cited the principle of “protecting life from conception to natural death,” Colorado Public Radio reports.
Other co-sponsors of the bill were Democrats Sen. Julie Gonzales and Reps. Jeni Arndt and Adrienne Benavidez.
In his comments to the Pueblo Chieftain, Berg cited his experience as a priest in Texas and Colorado ministering to prisoners.
“Indeed, I have witnessed the return to the faith of the most hardened criminals,” he said. “The death penalty, while it might offer a sense of short-term justice, only adds to the cycle of violence and takes away this opportunity for conversion.”
Berg also cited Pope Francis’ revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2018.
“Today there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes... Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” the pope said.
In spring 2019 the Democrat-controlled Senate was set to debate a bill to repeal the death penalty, but backers appeared to lack enough votes and asked the bill to be withdrawn.
Previously, state legislators have tried to repeal the death penalty five times since 2000. There has not been an execution under Colorado law since 1997.
Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver, speaking for the Colorado Catholic Conference, testified in favor of the repeal at a Jan. 27 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
(Story cotinues below)
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“The Catholic Church, many other Christians and many other people of faith believe that human life is sacred from conception until natural death,” he said. “We believe that, because God made us in his image and likeness, it is not possible to lose the dignity that confers to our lives. We are, as Jesus said, his brothers and sisters, even if we have committed great crimes or sins.”
Rodriguez told the Senate committee the death penalty “only adds to the cycle of violence.”
“If we as a society accept the idea that it’s possible for someone to lose their human dignity and be executed, then it is only a short step to say that certain classes or types of people belong to this less-than-human group,” he said. “History has shown that this is not outside the realm of possibility.”
Rodriguez cited the Christian imperative to visit those who are in prison, adding: “even those who committed horrible crimes and are in prison are not outside of Christ’s mercy.”
The inmates now on Colorado’s death row are Nathan Dunlap, who murdered four people at a children’s restaurant, and Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray, who both had been involved in the murder of a young engaged couple, Javan Marshall Fields and Vivian Wolfe. Fields was set to testify against Ray in court on charges Ray was an accomplice in a murder case.
The murders of Fields and Wolfe helped inspire Fields’ mother, Aurora Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields, to become active in public life. Fields was one of the strongest critics of the bill in 2019, objecting to the speed with which it passed through committee consideration.