Governor Won’t Push To Abolish Colorado’s Death Penalty

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Photo: Hickenlooper On CM Jul 20 2015 Looking Right (HV)
Gov. John Hickenlooper on a 2015 image.

Gov. John Hickenlooper opposes the death penalty and has put one execution on hold indefinitely. But even despite recent life sentences in two-high profile cases, including the Aurora theater shooter case, now is not the right time to try to force changes to Colorado's capital punishment law, Hickenlooper told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner on Tuesday.

Both cases raised questions about the future of the death penalty.

"I think the verdicts in those two cases... do say something that the conversation [about the future of the death penalty] is taking place... but the conversation hasn't come to a head yet," he said.

"I think [it] has to simmer a little more before we say, 'Now's the time where we're going to have a commission and we want people to make a decision,'" he added.

The governor says it's possible that Colorado's death penalty statutes won't change during his tenure in office: "I think it would be better for Colorado, obviously, if [the death penalty were abolished before I leave office], but I don't think you can put a strict timeline on these things. It might take decades more. It's hard to predict."

Hickenlooper also talked about Attorney General Cynthia Coffman's plan to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency over its Clean Power Plan; what he's doing to prevent another toxic mine spill; a forthcoming EPA proposal to cut down on ozone; and to reflect on what's happened in the two years since floods ravaged Colorado's Front Range.

Hickenlooper also explained why he's participating in a shooting competition this month against the governor of Wyoming -- and others. The object is to kill an antelope, an historic competition called One Shot that is in its 75th year.

On whether AG Coffman is suing the EPA with his support

"No... I had assumed that kind of a decision would be the governor's decision and that the attorney general would work with the governor... Like a day before or two days before her people said she was considering it. That's not the same as saying, 'Hey, let's sit down and discuss this. Can the governor meet?' And to be quite blunt, I'm not sure where her authority -- is she the one who makes that decision when the state sues someone? Or is that the governor, is the lawyer for the governor? I'm hopeful we'll sit down this week and get a chance to talk through it."

On what the state is doing to prevent another mine spill like the Gold King

"We've known about the problem. I mean this is one of those nagging issues that there is no clear solution... Our hope is after the Gold King that we can work with the EPA and do a mutual assessment. We're both working on, alright, how many abandoned mines are there, and of those, how many of those are really problems? And say, we're going to go after the worst ones first, and the federal government's going to put up some money, we're going to put up some money... and it's not just Colorado. So I've been talking to the Western governors about this, as well, because ideally, a solution should encompass all the Western states."

The state has a list of mines that are emitting contaminated water. It's also available in a map.

On the One Shot competition and his hunting experience

"It's a tradition that is deeply embedded in both Colorado and Wyoming... it's part of Western culture... On the dinner the night before, there's a long dance with Native American tribes of the area... Each hunter has one bullet [and] it's blessed by the Indians. There's a great deal of the traditional Indian lore mixed in with this. And then you go out, and you try, let me tell you, it's very, very hard to kill an antelope with one bullet... I'm more traditionally a bird hunter, so going out and dove hunt or shooting pheasant, I think I'm more comfortable with."