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Wyoming legislators won’t consider death penalty repeal

WYOMING — With opposition to capital punishment mounting across the country, Wyoming toed the water but ultimately struck down any hope of repealing the death penalty.

Support for abolishing the death penalty in Wyoming appears to be growing but it wasn’t enough to turn the tide this time around, where a 2/3 supermajority would be needed in a budget session year. House Bill 166 failed introduction in the House Wednesday by a 37-23 vote.

All three Teton County representatives—Jim Roscoe-I, Andy Schwartz-D, and Michael Yin-D—voted for the repeal.

“We’re disappointed that legislators won’t consider a bill to repeal the death penalty this year, but our resolve to end this abhorrent practice remains strong,” said Sabrina King, director of campaigns for the ACLU of Wyoming who supported the bill. “The death penalty is costly, ineffective and it is disingenuous to keep it part of our criminal justice system. It is clear that a majority of the House supports repeal. We know by next year the Senate will as well. One year from now it is our commitment that Wyoming will finally end the death penalty.”

In addition to the ACLU of Wyoming, organizations like the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, the League of Women Voters of Wyoming, Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Church of Cheyenne and Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCADP) also support the repeal of the death penalty.

Kylie Taylor, state coordinator of CCATDP, was encouraged by the growing momentum for the movement. She pointed out the 39 co-sponsors of the bill in both houses is more than twice as many as last year’s repeal bill, and 26 of them are Republicans.

“As conservatives we simply do not trust the government to get it right and the number of people freed from deaths rows backs us up, which is why we numbered the bill 166,” said the prime sponsor of the bill Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, referring, erroneously, to the number of inmates on death row since 1973 now exonerated (164). “And as fiscal conservatives we cannot justify spending about a million dollars a year on a program our state has not used in nearly three decades.”

Wyoming is part of a nationwide trend of conservative Republican state legislators rethinking the death penalty and leading efforts to end it. Last year there were 56 Republican death penalty repeal sponsors in 10 states. Including Wyoming, 30 states currently have a form of capital punishment on the books.

“Ending the death penalty is the conservative thing to do,” Taylor said. “It will cut costs to taxpayers, protect the sanctity of human life, and guard against the government overreaching and executing an innocent person.”

The issue is not so cut and dried. There are moral grounds. If even one irreversible mistake is made, it’s one too many for some.

There are financial concerns as well. According to the Wyoming Legislature, the Department of Corrections states that the cost of proposed legislation is indeterminable due to an unknown number of cases. Currently there are no inmates in the custody of the Wyoming Department of Corrections sentenced to death. Each year of incarceration, per inmate, costs the State, in current dollars, approximately $44,735, including medical costs.

Some lawmakers still felt the threat of capital punishment is a deterrent to murder. Some also feel the punishment is a carriage of ultimate justice. Others, like Rep. Bill Pownell, R-Campbell, bring up another interesting point: capital punishment as a bargaining chip for state prosecuting attorneys.

“Prosecutors around the state are not in favor of repealing this bill. This bargaining chip is used enormously on many cases we have currently in Wyoming,” Pownell said. “In many cases it could mean the recovery of a body that might not otherwise ever be found if that bargaining chip wasn’t there.”

Since 1976, Wyoming has executed one person—Mark Hopkinson—who was put to death in 1992. Another death row inmate, Dale Wayne Eaton, had his death sentence overturned in 2014.

Source: buckrail.com, Staff, February 13, 2020

Wyoming death penalty repeal bill fails introduction vote

1 year after a similar bill passed through the House of Representatives, Wyoming lawmakers decided not to take on legislation to repeal the state's death penalty Wednesday, marking the end of an ambitious repeal campaign that was initiated after a narrow defeat in the Senate in 2019.

The final House vote was 37-23.

Death penalty repeal legislation was one of the individual bills most whispered about in the lead-up to this year’s legislative session.

Sponsored for the second straight year by Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, a repeal bill has been lobbied by national groups like Conservatives Against The Death Penalty and the American Civil Liberties Union — as well as a number of religious organizations in Wyoming — for nearly a year.

It seemed to catch some traction with lawmakers as well, with this year’s version of the legislation managing to achieve roughly double the number of co-sponsors it gathered last year (39, between both chambers).

The arguments in favor of repeal, according to supporters of the repeal effort, are clear: $1 million in savings from the state’s annual contribution to a fund specifically intended for death penalty cases and avoidance of executing potentially innocent inmates — a key argument for conservatives who argue bureaucracy cannot be trusted with the taking of a human life.

Conservatives in some states push against death penalty

“Due to the grave nature of the punishment, American courts have always applied a high degree of scrutiny to laws that permit the government to take a life,” Sabrina King, director of campaigns at ACLU of Wyoming, said in a statement Tuesday. “As more information becomes available about the arbitrary and discriminatory manner in which these laws are applied — and as societal standards regarding the death penalty continue to evolve — it becomes increasingly difficult for capital punishment laws to avoid violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

The introduction of this year’s version of the repeal legislation comes after a historic effort in the 2019 general session, where Olsen managed to push the bill all the way to the Senate — the first time a death penalty repeal bill had ever cleared the House of Representatives here.

It failed in the upper chamber on first reading by an 18-12 margin.

Olsen told his fellow lawmakers before the vote Thursday he wanted it brought to a hearing so that everyone — including victims, attorneys and the wrongfully committed — could sit down to have the discussion.

“I’m going to ask you to vote your conscience at that time,” Olsen said. “But right now, I would ask you to introduce this bill so it can be heard inside these halls.

Another lawmaker said the death penalty could be used as a bargaining chip. Another said it could be used to obtain justice for those who have been heinously wronged.

“We need to be the ones who stand up for them,” said Roy Edwards, R-Gillette.

Source: Casper Star-Tribune, Staff, February 13, 2020

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

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