Colorado lawmakers vote to repeal death penalty

This 29 February, 2000, photo shows the "death chamber" at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas (AFP Photo/PAUL BUCK)

Los Angeles (AFP) - Colorado lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill to repeal the death penalty in the western US state, overcoming fierce opposition from Republicans who tried to stall the vote, including by reading from the Bible.

The bill, set to be approved by the state's Democratic governor, would make Colorado the 22nd US state to abolish the death penalty.

A debate on the issue went into the wee hours of Tuesday in the Colorado assembly as Republican lawmakers presented several unsuccessful amendments to stall the vote. One representative, Steve Humphrey, at one point read from the Bible for nearly 45 minutes.

The bill was finally approved on a second reading around 4:00 am on Tuesday after 11 hours of discussion.

The repeal bill was formally approved on Wednesday during a third and final reading before being sent to the governor.

"One side of this assembly defended families and victims," representative Lori Saine said after the bill was approved. "One side defended criminals."

Republicans had opposed the bill on grounds it would prevent families of murder victims from having any closure if killers did not face the death penalty.

Democrats, however, argued that the death penalty is immoral and often imposed on minorities and the poor.

"Rarely are we asked to decide an issue that is as momentous, impactful, and as hard as this, and I have empathy and understanding for my colleagues who may find a different answer," assembly leader Alec Garnett, a Democrat, said.

"I have been humbled and moved by the testimony and debate that we have heard," he added. "My hope is for a society where we spend our resources on rehabilitation, not on appeals; on treating drug addictions, and not administering lethal injections."

- 'Victory for justice' -

The vote came as states around the country have been reexamining their use of the death penalty.

New Hampshire abolished the punishment completely in 2019 and California's governor last year declared a moratorium on executions as long as he is in office.

Colorado's last execution dates back to 1997 when Gary Lee Davis died by lethal injection for the 1986 rape and murder of a neighbor.

There are currently three people on the state's death row.

"Today's decision by Colorado legislators to repeal the death penalty represents a tremendous victory for justice," Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

"Around the country, states and citizens from all parts of the country and a wide range of personal and political backgrounds are coming to a similar realization: The death penalty has no place in America," she added. "Almost 50 years of data in the modern death penalty era have proven that there is no way to execute people in a way that is not racially biased, arbitrary, costly, and inhumane.

"Furthermore, 167 innocent people have been officially exonerated from death row since 1973."

Last year, 22 people were executed in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. And this year, four have been executed so far.