Colorado became the 22nd state in the country to abolish the death penalty on Monday.
Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a bill passed by the Democratic legislature after several attempts in recent years had failed to make headway. The party took control of the entire state government in 2018.
The governor also commuted the sentences of the three men on death row, saying they would now serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. Polis said the decision was made in conjunction with a “thorough outreach process” to those affected by the mens’ crimes.
“Commutations are typically granted to reflect evidence of extraordinary change in the offender,” he wrote. “That is not why I am commuting these sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Rather, the commutations of these despicable and guilty individuals are consistent with the abolition of the death penalty.”
The bill states that the death penalty can’t be given for any crimes committed on or after July 1, and the Denver Post notes one defendant in the state is currently on trial or a crime that could face such punishment.
Only one person had been executed in Colorado since 1976, when a federal moratorium on capital punishment was lifted. Colorado Public Radio notes the death penalty has been used rarely and jurors have been unlikely to apply it, even during high-profile cases like the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
The passage was cheered by lawmakers and civil rights advocates.
“My heart is filled with gratitude now that CO becomes the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty,” Colorado state Sen. Julie Gonzales (D), a sponsor of the bill, wrote on Twitter. “There remains much work to do, and I look forward to being a part of the efforts to ensure that all 50 states and the federal govt end this horrible practice once and for all.”
Amnesty International called Polis’ signature “the kind of human rights leadership this country needs, now more than ever.”
“The death penalty is irreversible, it is ineffective, and it does not deter crime,” Kristina Roth, a senior program officer with the group, said in a statement. “The use of the death penalty as a punishment is outdated, fundamentally broken and must end once and for all.”