Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why would I want that?

Victim's family member testimony got some press yesterday in the coverage of Montana's Senate hearing on a death penalty repeal bill. Here is a story from the KULR8 news site:

By Kacey Drescher

HELENA - The Senate Judiciary heard emotional testimony Tuesday over a bill that would end capital punishment in Montana. It's similar to a measure that failed during the 2009 session.

One of the supporters of the measure is Diana Cote, whose teenage daughter was murdered in 2007. Cote says, "the thing that hurt the most was everyone kept asking me, 'oh are you going to go for the death penalty'? I just didn't get it, why after my own child being murdered would I want to go out and murder someone else?"

Cote supports Senator Dave Wanzenried's Senate Bill 185 which abolishes the death penalty, instead setting the maximum penalty as life in prison without parole. Wanzenried says the families of defendants who are put to death should also be considered.

He asked other lawmakers to spend 15 minutes inside a jail cell before forming an opinion on the death penalty. Since 1974, 3 Montana inmates have been executed and the bill would change the fate of two inmates currently on death row.

Randy Steid served 17 years in prison and was eventually proven innocent. He says abolishing capital punishment makes sure inmates who are wrongfully convicted aren't put to death by mistake.

He says, "let me tell you, when I was serving my sentence of life without parole and I would see those gurneys go by, if they would have asked me to jump on there I would have strapped myself in gladly."

But, opponents of Wanzenried's bill says the death penalty provides closure for the victims' families.

State Representative Tom Berry of Roundup knows firsthand about losing a loved one at the hand of another and he believes the death penalty needs to be an option. He says, "not a day goes by that I don't think about my son who is no longer with us."

Another part of the debate focused on the cost of incarceration versus putting someone to death. Wanzenried says it's actually costs the state less to lock someone up for the rest of their lives. He says it costs $36,000 a year to house an inmate at the Montana State Prison. He says due to the lengthy legal process over capital punishment, it can cost 6 to 7 times more.

Seventeen states have abolished the death penalty, but opponents of the bill say 33 states will have the option.

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