NewsCovering Colorado


Weighing the cost of the death penalty on families and taxpayers

Posted at 8:09 AM, Feb 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-28 10:13:25-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appears to be ready to sign a bill that would repeal capital punishment. One argument lawmakers had to consider is whether capitol punishment can be more expensive than a life without parole.

According to The Death Penalty Information Center, a national nonprofit, the average cost of the drug used in lethal injections was just $83.55 per dose in 2011, a number that has skyrocketed over the years. Compared to the cost of the drug used in lethal injections, the Death Penalty Information Center says the average cost of a life sentence is $150,000 a year.

By 2017, states such as Virginia were paying $16,500 per dose due to the chemical supplier the U.S. was getting its injections from leaving the business and causing a shortage of the drug. On top of that, more costs in the legal process surrounding capitol punishment involve gathering witnesses, putting together a grand jury and getting experts needed to testify.

Another argument lawmakers considered is whether or not families of murder victims can get closure if the death penalty is not on the table.

"I have 10 grandchildren as of today, and I want them to know my son because of the memories we shared with him," Alice Randolph said.

Randolph's son was murdered a decade ago, and the killer received life in prison. Randolph felt like capital punishment would have overshadowed her son's life and tragic death. She didn't want that.

There are three people currently on death row in the state of Colorado: Nathan Dunlap, Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens.

Dunlap murdered four people in 1993 at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant he was employed at in Aurora. His victims ranged from teens to a restaurant manager. Ray and Owens have cases still going through the appellate process. They were sentenced to death for killing Javad Fields and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, in 2005. Fields, who is the son of current Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields, was set to testify in a shooting case and was targeted because of it.

"My son should still be alive today , and his story is not a distraction," Fields said.

Fields was the only Democrat to vote against the repeal. She and Democratic State Rep. Tom Sullivan, who represents Centennial, share similar heart aches.

"I'm not going to be the one to tell those parents they can't have the justice they want, and that's what you would be telling them if you throw this out," Sullivan said.

Sullivan's son Alex was murdered in the Aurora movie theater mass shooting. Sullivan hopes lawmakers won't wait for the next tragedy or when they have a strong majority to make changes to our criminal justice system.

"They've just sat back and waited until they got full control and were just waiting to throw it out," Sullivan said.

Polis has so far refused to answer questions about how he will handle these three men. A spokesperson with the governor's office says this legislation will not affect their cases. The governor might decide not to interfere at all or he could change their sentences to keep them behind bars forever. One thing the governor is saying he'll do is treat each case individually.