Dear Members of the Montana Legislature,
We are family members of murder victims. We desperately miss the parents, children, siblings, spouses, and other loved ones we have lost. We live with the pain and heartbreak of their absence every day and would do anything to have them back. We have been touched by the criminal justice system in ways we never imagined and would never wish on anyone. Our experience compels us to speak out for change.
We are writing today to ask your support in passing House Bill 370, which would replace Montana’s death penalty with life without parole. Though we share different perspectives on the death penalty, all 55 of us agree that Montana’s capital punishment system does not work for victims’ families and that our state is better off without it.
To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure. Life without parole, which begins immediately, is both of these; the death penalty is neither. Capital punishment drags victims’ loved ones through an agonizing and lengthy process that holds out the promise of one punishment in the beginning and often results in a life sentence in the end anyway. A life without parole sentence right from the start would keep society safe, hold killers responsible for their brutal and depraved acts, and would start as soon as we left the courtroom instead of leaving us in limbo.
At the same time, a system of life without parole in place of the death penalty would save scarce funds. In Montana, we have spent a countless amount of taxpayers’ money and diverted endless hours of court and law enforcement time to our capital punishment system. What has it bought us? Years worth of appeals, overturned sentences, and a system so broken that fixing it is impossible – all for what? Three executions that took decades to achieve.
Those resources could be spent in better ways if death-eligible killers were sentenced to life without parole. Law enforcement programs that work might have prevented the tragedies we suffered at only a fraction of the cost. A legal system free from the resource drain of the capital punishment system could find, prosecute, and sentence countless other criminals and even take dangerous people off the streets before they commit murder. Dollars saved could mean more counseling and aid to children orphaned by these horrible murders, or other services we so desperately need as we attempt to get on with our lives.
Only a handful of arbitrarily selected murderers are sentenced to death. Many of our loved ones’ murderers did not receive an expensive trial or death sentence. Does that mean that some our loved ones’ lives were worth less? This policy is simply not worth the tremendous financial and emotional price.
It is vitally important that our state address the needs of surviving family and friends as we struggle to heal. We know that elected officials who promote the death penalty often do so with the best intentions of helping family members like us. We are writing to say that there are better ways to help us. The death penalty is a broken and costly system. Montana doesn’t need it, and victims’ families like ours don’t want it.
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