Sen. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat who supports the death penalty, will not be sitting on a committee Wednesday when a repeal proposal comes back to the legislature.
Fields said she does not want to be a voice in the middle of the debate as the Senate Judiciary Committee discusses a proposal to eliminate capital punishment in Colorado.
“The death penalty repeal deserves a full debate, and I believe the people of Colorado should determine if it’s justifiable. But I don’t think tomorrow I should be a part of that decision, just based on my own personal and unique experience that I bring,” Fields told ColoradoPolitics.com Tuesday afternoon.
The Aurora lawmaker brings to the conversation a heart-wrenching story after her son was murdered by two men sitting on death row. Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, were gunned down in 2005 as the two were expected to testify in a pending murder case.
Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray were both sentenced to death for their involvement in the murders, though they are moving through a lengthy appeals process.
“I don’t want to do anything to undermine or interfere with the work that’s already being done on both sides. I just want the justice system to play out the way it should,” Fields said.
An ardent supporter of the death penalty in the past, Fields said her position on the issue is “maturing as it relates to my experience and the murder of my son.”
“It’s not that I’m wavering on my support … But with time, I’m still grieving, I’m still heartbroken because of the death of my son, and this is traumatic.
“I haven’t changed my opinion, it’s well documented. So, I don’t need to be on that forefront. I don’t need to be the mouthpiece anymore for that.”
Fields will be replaced on the Judiciary Committee by Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, who plans to support the measure to repeal the death penalty. The effort is sponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver. Aguilar said she has already received several phone calls from people trying to sway her opinion.
With Fields no longer sitting on the committee, the bill is expected to fail on a party-line vote.
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
In 2013 – when Democrats controlled the legislature – Fields sponsored a bill that would have asked voters to decide in 2014 whether to abolish the death penalty. But she spiked the legislation after a separate measure in the legislature at the time failed, which also would have repealed the death penalty.
Much of the debate at the time was driven by comments from Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, who signaled that he didn’t believe Coloradans were ready to repeal the death penalty. The governor at the time expressed “conflicting feelings.” In 2014, Hickenlooper outlined his reasons for opposing the death penalty.
Aguilar said she was happy to swap with Fields, stating, “I had told her that if at any time it was hard for her … that I would be happy to substitute, and this is the only time that she felt like she wanted to not be in there.”
Fields believes it should be up to voters to decide the issue, but she added that there is justice in capital punishment.
“Someone took my son’s promise, and his future,” she said. “They’re sitting on death row. The people who did this to my son see the highest level of penalty that the state has to render. A jury did that, not just once, but twice.”