EDITORIALS: Montana Paper Calls for Repeal

A recent editorial in the Great Falls Tribune in Montana outlined some of the key problems with the death penalty as the state legislature considers its repeal. The editors expressed concerns about the risks of mistake with executions: “There is no way to take back an execution. That reason alone provides good cause to eliminate the death penalty in Montana.” The paper also noted that victims' families wait for decades for executions to be carried out, with the defendants receiving most of the attention: "[D]uring the long periods before their executions, these men received regular publicity and notoriety for their crimes. If they had been simply locked up for life without possibility of parole, people could have forgotten about them." The editorial concluded, “Our bottom line is that it’s risky to execute people when they might not be guilty. In addition, the cost and trauma of court cases that drag on for years is not worth the satisfaction some people receive from the finality of executions. We simply cannot afford to spend millions of dollars each on future death penalty cases.”  Read the editorial below.

Conservatives and Republicans Support Death Penalty Repeal Bill in Montana

A bipartisan group of legislators in Montana will introduce a bill to replace the state's death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. The sponsors include two Republicans and two Democrats. A coalition of conservative lawmakers, religious groups, and human rights groups support the repeal of capital punishment. Republican Sen. Matthew Rosendale (pictured), a member of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said his stance on the death penalty did not cost him votes. “People know where I stand on the death penalty and I still got elected by a wide margin....[I]f you stand up and say, ‘I’m against the death penalty,’ you will not lose conservative votes.” He added that conservatives, many of whom are concerned about abortion, have a variety of reasons for opposing the death penalty: “Everyone has their own reasons why they support ending the death penalty. For some folks, it’s for fiscal reasons, and other folks oppose it for moral issues.”

NEW VOICES: Former Supporters Rethinking the Death Penalty Because of its High Costs

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, some long-time supporters of the death penalty have recently shifted their positions, questioning whether the occasional execution is worth the costs incurred by taxpayers at a time when budgets are strained.  Gil Garcetti (pictured), the former district attorney of Los Angeles County, which is responsible for roughly one-third of California's 727 death-row inmates, recently remarked, “I was a supporter and believer in the death penalty, but I've begun to see that this system doesn't work and it isn't functional. It costs an obscene amount of money." A study of the death penalty in California in 2011 showed that the cost of housing a death-row inmate was $100,000 per year more than the cost of housing someone sentenced to life without parole. The same study concluded that just picking a jury in death penalty cases costs $200,000 more than the amount for non-capital cases. In Montana, a group called Montana Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty has joined the movement to repeal capital punishment because of its cost. Steve Dogiakos, the group’s director, said, “The death penalty is another institution of government that is wasteful and ineffective.” In Utah, Republican State Rep. Stephen Handy recently asked for a fiscal review of how much the state is spending on capital cases: "I don't have any illusion that either the Utah legislature or the people are ready to overturn the death penalty. But I want to start the dialogue," he said.

NEW VOICES: "It’s Time to End Montana’s Death Penalty"

In a recent editorial, the Great Falls Tribune reversed its long-standing position and called for the end of the death penalty in Montana. The paper cited the cost of maintaining the death penalty as a primary reason for why the punishment should be repealed. The editors joined in the efforts of a relatively new conservative group to end capital punishment: "[E]ven without definitive state data [on costs], we align with the Montana Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. It’s time to end capital punishment in Montana." The editorial concluded, “In a just society, the only way to impose capital punishment is to provide a skilled, capable defense for the accused. Access to appeals must be part of the process. Anything less would constitute an unjust system. The economic reality is that it’s a system we simply cannot afford.” Read full editorial below.

NEW VOICES: Conservatives Seek to Repeal the Death Penalty in Montana

In Montana, a conservative political group is calling for an end to the death penalty after a recent court ruling held the state’s execution protocol unconstitutional. Former Republican state Senator Roy Brown said, “Conservatives dislike waste and inefficiency. That is why we should cast a critical eye when the state is involved with the business of executing people…. When it takes over 20 years and hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars for extra legal fees and court costs, it is obvious that the process is full of waste and inefficiency.” Steve Dogiakos, a member of Montana Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, said the court ruling “shines a bright light on the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies associated with capital punishment.” Republican Representative Christy Clark (pictured) plans to sponsor a bill to replace the death penalty with life without parole. She said, “It is time for conservatives to do what they do best and insist that a wasteful inefficient government program gets off the books. Small government and the death penalty don't go together. We should not trust the state to get this right.”

CLEMENCY: Daughter in Canada Asks Montana Governor to Spare Her Father's Life

Ronald Smith (pictured) is one of two Canadian citizens on death row in the United States. Smith is facing execution in Montana for the kidnapping and murder of two members of the Blackfeet Nation thirty years ago. Smith’s co-defendant, Rodney Munro, pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and was returned to Canada and released from jail in 1998. Munro credits Smith for saving his life, saying that he was given a plea deal and released because Smith admitted to the murders. Carmen Blackburn, Smith’s daughter, and her family recently had a one-hour audience with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to request clemency.  Blackburn said that although the Governor was still unsure of his decision, he did not feel that it is fair for Smith to be executed when his co-defendant was paroled. Blackburn also said that Gov. Schweitzer might be interested in speaking with her father before making a final decision. She said, “He did say he wouldn't mind meeting with my dad. It's one thing to hear about the remorse but when you hear it in my dad's voice and you see it in my dad's eyes — that's the difference. You can't fake remorse because your true colours always show through. You can see how much he regrets what he's done and wishes he could turn time back.”

DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available

DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials.  For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database.  Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

Montana Senate Votes to Repeal the Death Penalty

On February 14, the Montana state Senate passed a bill that would repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole.  In a 26-24 vote, all of the Senate's Democrats and four Republicans supported ending capital punishment, marking the second straight legislative session for such a vote. Senator David Wanzenried, who introduced the bill, said that the death penalty is not a fair punishment, does not bring closure for victims, or serve as a deterrent to murder. He said the "current system can't be made fair and it can't be made infallible." Other concerns cited by supporters of the repeal bill were the high risks of wrongful convictions, the punishment's disproportional use against racial minorities and the poor, and the financial costs of implementing the punishment. Republican Senator Ryan Zinke said, "Whether you are or not with the moral issue, there is a practical issue of spending money." The bill faces one more procedural Senate vote and will then be passed on to the House.