Colorado Senate News
31 January 2008
A Democrat bill denounced by Republicans as soft on crime drew a hail of fire Wednesday from prosecutors, who said the measure would make it harder to prosecute teens who participate in brutal killings.
As a result, the Democrat majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to delay action pending revisions to Senate Bill 66, authored by fellow Democrat Sen. Suzanne Williams, of Aurora.
SB 66, also sponsored by Democrat Rep. Rosemary Marshall, of Denver, would treat murder in the first degree as a less serious, class 2 felony if the defendant was under 18 years old at the time of the offense, was convicted as an adult, and did not commit or assist in committing the murder. The controversial measure throws a curve at the state’s “felony-murder” statute, used to prosecute criminal cohorts in homicide cases.
“We're taking a tool away from law enforcement and prosecutors at a time when it's needed the most,” said Republican Sen. Josh Penry, of Grand Junction, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vocal critic of the bill.
“I am glad the Committee decided to postpone the vote” said Sen. Scott Renfroe, of Eaton, another GOP member on the Judiciary Committee member who opposed the bill. “This is a bad bill that gives teens the message they can be a party to murder or other heinous crimes without facing the most serious consequences.”
Although Williams, a retired teacher, insisted her intent was to help juveniles, “…caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the bill drew fierce opposition form the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, including from Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey. Morrissey testified against the measure at Wednesday’s hearing and at one point engaged in a heated joust with Williams.
A visibly angry Williams tried to refute the arguments put forth by the testifying district attorneys and even accused members of the Denver D.A.’s office of not having read her bill.
Yet, the law enforcement community made clear that Williams’ measure would blunt an important tool in prosecuting vicious criminals, including in some cases where it is not clear which individual actually committed the killing.
Morrissey recounted a litany of cases in which heinous crimes were committed, and felony-murder charges were used to bring justice. In one such case, he said, a woman who had been kidnapped and severely injured was left outside and died of exposure. Technically, Morrissey said, no one committed the final act killing the woman, yet a jury found that, clearly, all the kidnappers’ actions led to her death.
Democrats have promised to reschedule the bill for a vote.