Thursday, February 19, 2009

MONTANA: Legislature 2009: Death penalty proposal endorsed

(Expect more soon from Journey folk and others about this hopeful news! Also see updates on other glad abolition news in Comments section below)

By MIKE DENNISON Missoulian State Bureau (from February 16-17, 2009)

HELENA - After a 90-minute emotionally charged debate, the Republican-controlled state Senate Monday endorsed a bill to abolish the death penalty in Montana.

Supporters of Senate Bill 236 said the death penalty is a costly, imperfect punishment that doesn't deter crime and does more harm than good for the families of those who are horribly murdered.

“In order for punishment to be effective, it must be swift and it must be sure,” said Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, the sponsor of SB236. “The death penalty is neither.”

Opponents argued just as passionately that Montana should maintain the harshest penalty for those who commit the most heinous crimes.

“This state needs to have an ultimate form of punishment for those people who have done something that is so egregious to society that we have a bound duty to take that person out of society,” said Sen. Dan McGee, R-Laurel.

Yet by a 27-23 vote, supporters of the bill carried the day, setting up a final binding vote Tuesday that would send the measure to the House for its consideration.

Six Senate Republicans joined 21 Democrats in voting for the bill, while 21 Republicans and two Democrats voted “no.”

SB236 would abolish capital punishment in Montana, substituting the death penalty with life in prison without parole. If the bill becomes law, the two men on death row at the Montana State Prison would be re-sentenced to life in prison.

Wanzenried said the death penalty, while sometimes advertised as bringing “closure” to relatives of the crime's victim, does nothing of the sort.

Instead, it creates a litany of publicized appeals that forces the family members to relive the crime again and again, he said.

“The current system does nothing to take care of the family of the victims,” Wanzenried said. “The current system simply prolongs the pain and agony of the victims.”

Supporters also invoked morality and spirituality in arguing to abolish the death penalty, saying only God should take a life, and that life in prison is perhaps a harsher punishment.

“We are the judge today as to whether someone will die at our hands,” said Sen. Gary Perry, R-Manhattan. “It is a death sentence (to be sentenced to life in prison). The question is not whether the (criminal) will die. The question is, by whose hand will he die? Ours? Or God's?”

Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, said convicted murderers will be held accountable, whether they are executed or not: “If we vote for this, the people on death row, they are going to pay for their mistake. If they don't pay for it on this Earth, they're going to pay for it regardless. That's the law of the Creator, that's the law of the universe.”

Opponents of the measure argued that the death penalty does deter crime, particularly for murderers or other violent offenders already in prison.

“(For) violent criminals who have already murdered at least once, and the worst they can get is life without parole, what's to deter them from killing another inmate, the first chance they get?” asked Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman.

They also doubted claims that life sentences would lessen appeals for convicted murderers, or that it would somehow make prisons or society any safer.

“I think my job here is to stand up for the victim,” said Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber. “The minute that that murderer has been put to death, he will not have additional victims.”

Balyeat also said the death penalty is a threat that prosecutors can use to extract guilty pleas from murderers, and noted that capital punishment has been handed out in only a few cases in Montana in the past 30 years.

Wanzenried said while Montana apparently hasn't had any innocent people on death row, mistakes can be made in the criminal justice system, and that he doesn't want to take the chance of executing an innocent person.

He also quoted the statement of a woman whose daughter had been kidnapped and murdered, and who opposes the death penalty:

“She said, ‘To kill someone in (my daughter's) name would be to violate and profane the goodness of her life. The idea is offensive and repulsive to me.' ”

Copyright © 2009 Missoulian

1 comment:

Connie L. Nash said...

Posted: February 18, 2009 - Death Penalty Information Center

Casper Taylor, Jr., a long-time Maryland House of Delegates member and former supporter of the death penalty, has written an op-ed calling for the end of capital punishment in Maryland. “In 28 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, nine as speaker, I cast thousands of votes,” wrote Taylor. “I have few regrets. But there is one vote I wish I could take back - my 1978 vote to reinstate the death penalty in Maryland.” Taylor continued, “Today, that vote haunts me. Since reinstatement, Maryland's 30 years of experience with the death penalty have been a colossal failure. I now believe that life in prison without the possibility of parole is a better alternative. The majority of Marylanders agree.”

Developments in Montana and New Mexico May Lead to Abolition of Death Penalty -Posted: February 17, 2009

Recent developments in Montana and New Mexico may affect the outcome of legislative efforts to abolish the death penalty. In Montana, the Senate voted 27-23 to end the death penalty in favor of life in prison without parole. It is the second session in a row that such a proposal has cleared the Senate. New Mexico’s House passed a bill replacing capital punishment with life in prison without parole and the bill is pending in a Senate committee. Legislatures in both states cited the risk of executing innocent people and the excessive costs of capital punishment as reasons for abolishing the death penalty.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said while he would have vetoed such a bill a few years ago, he may sign a repeal bill if it reaches his desk now. "I'm struggling with my position, but I definitely have softened my view on the death penalty.” He has found the alternative of life in prison without parole “to be a strong punishment” and called the cost of the death penalty “a valid reason in this era of austerity and tight budgets.”

Virginia Scheduled to Execute Man Whose Lawyers Failed Him
Posted: February 16, 2009

Edward Bell, a Jamaican immigrant convicted of killing a police officer, is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on February 19 despite a conclusion by a federal District Court that his lawyers failed to present any mitigating evidence at his trial. Judge James Jones of the Eastern District of Virginia held that the representation Bell received violated constitutional standards. However, a new sentencing hearing to explore the ample mitigating evidence that existed was never granted. According to the clemency petition filed for Bell, "Judge Jones said in a colloquy with the representative of the Attorney General, 'You’ll agree that there was zero mitigation evidence presented in this case. The brief testimony that was presented, again, as I think the witnesses have agreed, really probably hurt Bell more than they helped him. Certainly those witnesses, there was nothing elicited from them that did anything to shed any light on Bell or his character or motives or background.' Again speaking to the representative of the Attorney General, Judge Jones summarized the situation: defense counsel 'present[ed] no mitigating evidence, zero mitigating evidence. The prosecutor said it, you agree, I agree. The defense counsel presented zero.'"
Also, of course, always keep watching Rick Halperin's Death Pen News & Updates with easy click on right lower half of this home page...

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