"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, June 11, 2017

North Dakota's history with the death penalty

North Dakota
A recent letter to the editor from Shaun Moser published June 7 questions why Ashley Hunter isn't facing a death sentence. I would like to try and explain a few things about North Dakota's history with the death penalty.

First of all, no one has been executed in North Dakota since a murderer by the name of John Rooney was hanged here in Cass County on Oct. 17, 1905. 

From my perspective, North Dakota doesn't have the death penalty, most likely because of both the costs involved, and the fact that there hasn't been a murder case that would be considered eligible for the death penalty tried under state law since at least 1914.

North Dakota has only carried out eight judicially-ordered executions between statehood in 1889 and 1905. All eight of the executions were the hangings of condemned murderers. The executions took place in the county in which the inmates were convicted, with the county sheriff presiding over the hangings. If I understand the history correctly, each of these hangings were public spectacles.

However, the Rooney execution was the only execution in state history that was carried out inside of a state prison. Not in public. I wasn't aware that at one time, Cass County had a state prison, but the execution is mentioned on the North Dakota state courts website as having taken place at the Cass County Prison.

North Dakota had a death penalty on the books until it was struck down with all death penalty laws across the country in the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. Accordingly, the North Dakota Legislature repealed the last vestiges of the death penalty during its 1973 regular session.

At the time, the only death penalty eligible crime was when a prisoner either killed another person while in the custody of the state penitentiary, or when a prisoner escaped from the penitentiary and killed someone outside of the prison. This was a law under which no one had been sentenced to death.

There have been bills to reinstate the death penalty introduced on a number of occasions since the death penalty was repealed in 1973. All of them failed to pass.

Yes, North Dakota is regarded as a "red" or ultra-conservative, Republican-dominated state; yet it does not have the death penalty. It doesn't seem there is any hurry to reinstate capital punishment in this state.

Source: INFORUM, Rick Olson, June 10, 2017. The author is a regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary and opinion pages. Email rickolson@midco.net.

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