Thursday, 8 February 2007

Opponents of death penalty try again

Opponents of death penalty try again

By The Associated Press

Published on Tuesday, February 06, 2007.Last modified on 2/6/2007 at 12:08 am

"The mood and the public understanding, I think, is changing month to month, year to year," Crichton said.

Efforts to stop the death penalty have been gaining traction nationwide, particularly after a botched lethal injection in Florida last year. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen ordered a 90-day halt on death penalties last week because of concerns about lethal injections, the only method currently used by the state of Montana.

Tennessee joined 10 other states - Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and South Dakota - that have suspended executions over similar questions of whether lethal injection is inhumane.

Opponents of the death penalty tried unsuccessfully to block Dawson's execution last year because of the same concerns. Attorney General Mike McGrath said the issue was likely to come up again, and that the state was prepared to argue in favor of lethal injection.

The New Jersey Legislature issued its moratorium after assigning a legislative committee to study the death penalty. Rep. Joey Jayne, D-Arlee, said she plans to introduce similar legislation to fund a nonpartisan committee that would study the death penalty and report findings during Montana's next legislative session, in 2009

But the main thrust from death penalty opponents will be support for a bill by Sen. Dan Harrington, D-Butte. The measure would commute death sentences in Montana to life imprisonment. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans a hearing on the bill Wednesday.

The various civil rights and church groups supporting Harrington's bill are scheduled to hold a public forum on the topic tonight at Carroll College. Anticipated guest speakers include Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's brother, David Kaczynski, who also is expected to speak at the committee hearing the next day.

Crichton conceded that it would "take a lot of work" to get Harrington's bill past the Legislature and onto the desk of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has said he favors the death penalty. Several other Democrats besides Schweitzer also have signaled support for capital punishment.

Republicans, who control the House, have as a party traditionally supported the death penalty, saying it is based on a pragmatic approach to law enforcement.

"It's common sense that there are crimes you can do in this world that are so devastating and so wrong in society that (the death penalty) is deserved," said Senate Minority Leader Corey Stapleton, R-Billings.

But despite the formidable opposition, trying to end the death penalty remains a worthwhile effort, said Sen. Christine Kaufmann, who sponsored legislation to abolish the death penalty in previous sessions.

"Morality doesn't de-pend on the makeup of the Legislature," said Kauf-mann, a Helena Democrat. "When it is an issue of deep moral concern, you keep trying."

"Morality doesn't de-pend on the makeup of the Legislature," said Kauf-mann, a Helena Democrat. "When it is an issue of deep moral concern, you keep trying."

Two prisoners are on death row in Montana. The state has executed three people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1970s.

Harrington, who said he opposed the death penalty when he was a delegate at Montana's Constitutional Convention, is pushing as his legislative career draws to a close to end the punishment.

"It's my last session, so we're going to do all we can to pass it," he said

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