Should Montana drop the death penalty?

Death Penalty abolition supporter Ronald Keine was sent to death row for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated nine days before his execution.

Death Penalty abolition supporter Ronald Keine was sent to death row for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated nine days before his execution.

The House Judiciary Committee heard an hour of testimony each for supporters and opponents of a measure seeking to abolish Montana’s death penalty, HB 370. We told you about this bill sponsored by Republicans and Democrats last week.

Sponsor Representative Doug Kary (R-Billings) says the death penalty is “wasting millions of dollars on less than a handful of cases while our police, courts and prisons are asking for more resources.” He calls it a failed policy and says the death penalty should be replaced with life in prison without parole. Kary says the fact that Montana has not executed an innocent person is out of sheer luck “and we cannot trust luck with matters of life and death.”

Detroit Resident Ronald Keine spoke in favor of the bill. He was falsely accused of a murder committed and covered up by a police officer and says that officer confessed to the murder to a church preacher—nine days before Keine was scheduled to go to the gas chamber. he says more than 140 other Americans have been exonerated from death row.

“I don’t trust the government with my health care, my tax dollars,(or) my guns, I sure as hell don’t trust them with my life,” he said.

Opponents of the abolition bill say the death penalty is a useful tool for prosecutors and a powerful deterrent to the most heinous crimes.

“If you say we’ll take the death penalty off if you plead guilty, it ends that trial, it’s actually saved money in those cases,” said Representative Roy Hollandsworth (R-Brady). He was just a child when a man attacked his family.”He killed my Dad, shot a hand off of my brother, shot him in the leg, tried to shoot everybody, tried to strangle me,” Hollandsworth said. “He got life in prison.”

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert says the system for applying the death penalty is very strict, limited and thorough: “With the help of the Attorney General we proceed as conscientiously, as dispassionately and as objectively as we can in these cases.”

Committee members will be voting on whether or not to send the abolition bill to the House floor next Friday.

Montana currently has two people on death row.

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