Great Falls Tribune: It’s time to end Montana’s death penalty

When it comes to divisiveness, the death penalty is in the camp of top issues, right up there with abortion and homosexuality. Most of us are fervently on one side or the other, and rarely does someone jump over to the other side. And all of us rely on government to enforce laws about such moral issues, laws created by our representatives, such as those governing abortion practices or same-sex marriage.

Montana State District Court Judge Jeffry Sherlock of Helena ruled that Montana’s protocol for the execution method for those sentenced to the death penalty— by means of lethal injection — amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under both the U.S. and Montana constitutions.

He said the protocol doesn’t ensure qualified individuals are making key decisions, such as verifying that the inmate is unconscious and incapable of feeling pain before administration of the death drugs.

The problems could be fixed, either by the 2013 Legislature or some other option being explored by state officials now. It’s a little surprising to see an effort to let capital punishment in Montana end being led by members of the political right. That is until you look at the reasoning behind Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. “When it takes over 20 years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for extra legal fees and court costs, it is obvious that the process is full of waste and inefficiency,” said former state Sen. Roy Brown, a Republican from Billings. In one of the most recent cost studies of the death penalty, The Urban Institute estimated the additional cost of a death penalty trial in Maryland was $1.9 million, compared with a trial for a similar crime in a non-death penalty case.

One in every three capital trials results in an execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. A study of the costs of death penalty trials in Montana compared with trials for similar crimes in non-death penalty trials ordered by the Legislative Finance Committee was not completed because of a lack of resources.
But even without definitive state data, we align with the Montana Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. It’s time to end capital punishment in Montana. 4In a just society, the only Way to impose capital punishment is to provide a skilled, capable defense for the accused.

Access to appeals must be part of the process. Anything less would constitute an unjust system.
The economic reality is that it’s a system we simply cannot afford. That’s a tough thing for anyone on either side of the death penalty fence to argue against.