Across the nation, the use of the death penalty continued to decline, according to a new report released by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). In 2014, both executions and death sentences dropped to historically low levels. Executions reached a twenty-year low, and new death sentences were the lowest in 40 years. Just seven states carried out executions this year. Fortunately, Montana was once again not among them.
Events this year highlighted the risks of our death penalty system. Seven people were exonerated from death row in four states. Three executions were botched as states turned to untested lethal injection drugs from unreliable sources.
In North Carolina, a pair of brothers, Leon Brown and Henry McCollum, were released from prison after 30 years, thanks to new evidence uncovered by the North Carolina Innocence Commission. The men both have intellectual disabilities and were interrogated under duress until they confessed to a crime they did not commit. Four other exonerations – three in Ohio and one in Louisiana – also involved cases in which defendants were exonerated at least 30 years after conviction, further illustrating the need for a robust and deliberate appeals process in death penalty cases. And just today, a judge vacated the sentence of George Stinney Jr. Unfortunately Stinney’s exoneration came 40 years too late as he was executed in 1944.
As states continued to experiment with new lethal injection drugs, three executions went seriously awry, with witnesses reporting that the prisoners gasped and struggled after the drugs were injected. In the wake of one such execution in Oklahoma, President Obama ordered a review of the application of the death penalty in the U.S., calling the botched execution, “deeply disturbing.”
All of this highlights why we need to do away with the death penalty. Life in prison without parole removes criminals from society and keeps us safe without risking the tragic, irreversible mistake of executing an innocent person. Not to mention the enormous cost savings of getting rid of capital punishment. Its time to get Montana out of the business of killing people.
How can you help? In just a few short weeks, the 2015 Legislature will convene. We are working to pass legislation that would replace the death penalty with life without parole in Montana. We need your help to make this happen!
Help us end the death penalty once and for all! Toward Justice!