Governor Polis, you can abolish the death penalty and show humanity to people on Colorado’s death row
A letter from a murder victim’s family member
Dear Governor Polis, I write to you on behalf of Amnesty International USA, urging you to put your signature on SB 20- 100 to repeal Colorado’s death penalty and grant clemency to the three men on Colorado’s death row. The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights and you have the opportunity in front of you to end this practice in your state once and for all.
Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million supporters, members and activists in more than 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights. We have over one million supporters, members and activists in the U.S. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. We are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion and are funded mainly by our membership and public donations.
You may know that Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally. We consider it to be a punishment incompatible with fundamental human rights principles; this is a punishment susceptible to emotional and politicized responses, particularly in the wake of highprofile violent crimes.
I write on behalf of Amnesty International, but also as an individual with a personal connection to such a high-profile and violent crime that took place in Colorado. On April 29, 1997, my 22- year-old cousin Jacine Gielinski was viciously kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Colorado Springs by George Wodlt and Lucas Salmon. Her death shattered our family. The loss was tragic, and the years of media coverage and court dates were unrelenting.
Jacine’s murder was a case that advocates for the death penalty might point to as the reason we have — and need — capital punishment. Her murderers had committed the “worst of the worst” crime, brutally torturing Jacine before leaving her to die. There was no risk of wrongful conviction, with confessions, eyewitnesses, and strong DNA and other material evidence. At the time of her murder, as a 14-year-old, I was terrified to be outside after dark, I felt assured knowing that Woldt had been sentenced to die, and Salmon to life in prison. It felt like an answer.
In the many years that passed, I discovered that grief and pain would not be healed by the eventual end of the trial, appeals, and sentencing processes. The two men were given different sentences, and it didn’t matter. For our family, closure was not something anyone could give us — and certainly nothing a death sentence would provide. Ultimately, a 2003 United States Supreme Court ruling resulted in Woldt being re-sentenced to life in prison without parole, and that too didn’t matter.
This same year, now a junior in college, I first learned about the death penalty from an academic perspective. I learned about wrongful executions, racial and economic bias, failure to deter, and arbitrary application of the death penalty. My emotional response to my family’s loss — very much in favor of the death penalty — was now countered with factual evidence highlighting the human rights violations inherent in the application of the death penalty. My opinion changed. My personal experience could not, and should not, justify policy that reinforces human rights violations.
Principled human rights leadership is necessary to see to our nation’s eventual abolition of the death penalty, which has dwindled to over half the states in the US now being abolitionist in law or practice. It is critical that our laws and policies are grounded not only in what is factual, but in the protection and defense of human rights for all.
As a murder victim family member, an educator, and an advocate, I urge you to repeal Colorado’s death penalty and commute the death sentences of the three men on Colorado’s death row.
Youth and Student Program Manager, Amnesty International USA