Survey finds death penalty still opposed
By Dale Wetzel, Associated PressBISMARCK – Opposition to the death penalty remains strong in the North Dakota Legislature, despite a drumbeat of publicity about the Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. federal death penalty case, an Associated Press survey shows.
Published Wednesday, December 27, 2006
North Dakota is one of a dozen states that does not have the death penalty, although it may be imposed for some federal crimes. This past September, a federal jury in Fargo sentenced Rodriguez to death for kidnapping University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin from the parking lot of a Grand Forks shopping mall. Her body was discovered four months later.
The Legislature has not debated a death penalty bill since 1995, when the North Dakota Senate rejected a proposal to allow the death sentence for killing a law enforcement or corrections officer, or for murders committed during a rape or kidnapping.
In the survey, The Associated Press asked lawmakers whether they agreed or disagreed with the notion that North Dakota should have the death penalty for certain crimes. The survey also asked what types of crimes merited a death sentence.
Thirty-nine of the 47 senators responded, and 27, enough for a Senate majority, said they disagreed with the death penalty. Of those, 13 said they opposed the death penalty for any type of crime.even senators said they agreed with the death penalty, while five said they were undecided.
The death penalty had stronger support in the House, where 40 representatives said they favored the idea. Thirty-six did not, and four said they were undecided.
In both the House and Senate, death penalty supporters said they believed it was justified for murder, murder of a law enforcement or corrections officer, or for kidnappings or sexual assaults that resulted in the victim’s death.
For now, the question is hypothetical. The Rodriguez case and the unrelated, highly publicized slaying of a Valley City State University student, Mindy Morgenstern, have not motivated any lawmakers to introduce a death penalty bill for the 2007 Legislature.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Tim Schuetzle, the state prison warden, said they were unaware of plans for a bill. John Olsrud, director of the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s research arm, said he did not know of any death penalty measure. The council handles the drafting of bills for lawmakers.
When the Legislature last handled a death penalty proposal in 1995, its chief sponsor, Sen. Meyer Kinnoin, D-Palermo, announced months in advance that he would be introducing one. Stenehjem said any death penalty measure should have plenty of lead time before the legislative debates begin.
“This is an issue that requires a lot of preparation,” Stenehjem said. “It is not something you should just throw in at the last minute.”
Schuetzle opposed the measure when it was last introduced, and he said Tuesday his opinion had not changed. The death penalty is costly, and does not deter others from committing violent crimes, Schuetzle believes.