Montana bill allows death row inmates to live out sentence

Two convicted murderers on Montana death row could live out their sentence in prison rather than facing the death penalty.

House Bill 370, sponsored by Rep. David Moore (R – Missoula), is a proposed bill to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The law would be retroactive, meaning anyone currently on death row would be re-sentenced.

In the state’s history, 74 people have been executed after being sentenced to death.

All but three of the executions occurred before 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington D.C. based non-profit research organization.

William Jay Gollehon and Ronald Allen Smith are the only two inmates currently on death row in Montana.

Gollehon, 50, was sentenced to death in 1992 for bludgeoning an inmate during a riot at the prison.

At the time of the prison murder, Gollehon was serving time for two murders, burglary, assault and kidnapping.

A judge sentenced Smith, 58, to death in 1983 for kidnapping and killing two men in 1982.

Both men are awaiting execution at the Montana State Prison.

Similar bills to abolish the death penalty were passed through the Montana Senate in 2009 and 2011, but they failed in the state House Judiciary Committee.

Wyoming considered a similar bill in the current legislative session after the state was faced with a death penalty drug deficit, but voted it down.

There are currently 32 states that have the death penalty.

Several states have repealed the death sentence in the past 10 years, with Illinois doing so in 2012.

But Illinois’ law was not retroactive, so the inmates previously sentenced to death would carry that sentence.

HB 370 is in its first House committee and has not been tabled. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.