Saturday, 10 March 2007

Assistant AG asks House to end death penalty

Assistant AG asks House to end death penalty
HELENA - The death penalty no longer should be allowed in Montana, the attorney general's office said Friday in supporting a bill that would abolish capital punishment.

The threat of death does not deter criminals and the process involved in death penalty cases is long and expensive, Assistant Attorney General John Connor told the House Judiciary Committee.

"It seems to me to be the ultimate incongruity to say we respect life so much that we're going to dedicate all our money, all our resources, our legal expertise and our entire system to try and take your life. ... Frankly, I just don't think I can do it anymore," he said.

Committee members took no immediate action on the bill, which would commute death sentences to life in prison and abolish capital punishment in the future. The measure passed the Democrat-controlled Senate last month.

Similar bills have failed in each of the past three legislative sessions, with the most recent dying in the House Judiciary Committee in 2005.

Opponents to this year's proposal, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dan Harrington of Butte, said the death penalty must remain an option for prosecutors and questioned the measure's propriety.

Harris Himes with the Montana Values Alliance argued that the bill should be put before voters as a constitutional amendment.

"The ultimate respect is for God, not for human life, which he created," Himes said.

Harrington argued that it is wrong to be teaching children "that to prevent violence we beget violence." He called the death penalty costly and unfair.

Two prisoners are on death row in Montana. The three people executed since reinstatement of the death penalty in the 1970s include convicted murderer David Dawson, put to death last summer at the Montana State Prison.

Nationally, the number of death sentences imposed dropped in 2006 to the lowest level since federal reinstatement of capital punishment 30 years ago. Executions have fallen to their lowest level in a decade.

If Harrington's bill becomes law, Montana would join a growing number of states that have recently put a stop to capital punishment.

The death penalty exists in 38 states. Of those, 11 have put executions on hold because of questions about whether lethal injection, the method used in Montana, is cruel and unusual punishment.

Those states are Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota and Tennessee.

A court in New York ruled the punishment unconstitutional, and a former Illinois governor issued a moratorium on the death penalty seven years ago.

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