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Colorado bill to reduce the sentence for felony murder heads to governor's desk

State Capitol
Posted at 6:34 PM, Apr 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-16 11:37:35-04

DENVER — A bill that would reform Colorado's felony murder statute is heading to Gov. Jared Polis' desk.

Under the current law, there are six felony crimes that can lead to a felony murder: burglary, robbery, arson, kidnapping, escape and sexual assault.

Felony murder carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole. That penalty could be handed down even if the person who was convicted did not directly kill someone.

"That person could merely be a person who was the driver of a car who didn’t even know his partner, his associate was going to go in and commit a murder," said Senator Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, one of the sponsors.

Under the bill, the sentence would be 16 to 48 years in prison. The measure is not retroactive, and Lee said it would not apply to cases that have already been through the judicial system.

Jeanette Orchard sat in the chamber while the House voted on the measure Tuesday morning. Her father, Kenneth Orchard, was murdered in his home when he walked in on a burglary in progress, and the home was set on fire.

She's been a fierce opponent of the bill and cried when it passed. She also wrote a letter to lawmakers where she pleaded for them to consider victims and their families before they voted.

“I had said in the letter that I had written how often I have read the statutes regarding felony murder. I have read those afterward on several occasions to look those up because it was comforting," Orchard said.

Curtis Brooks was 17-years-old when he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his role in a car robbery that resulted in a man being killed. He was granted clemency in 2018 and testified in support of the bill.

“My participation in that crime was wholly my inability to make the right decision, even though I knew what the right decision was." Brooks said. "It was weakness, it was fear on my part, so do I believe I deserved to be punished for that? Absolutely."