CHEYENNE– Laramie County Representative Jared Olsen (HD-11) and Converse County Senator Brian Boner (SD-02) teamed up this week to introduce legislation that repeals the death penalty in Wyoming.
“While we must continue to be tough on crime and keep victims at the forefront of our minds, the death penalty has been found to be ineffective and expensive,” said Representative Olsen.
“Having the death penalty on the table is a costly endeavor. The Wyoming Public Defender spends approximately $750,000 every year in taxpayer money to staff and fund capital cases,” Representative Olsen continued.
“Wyoming has not carried out an execution in 27 years and does not have a single inmate on death row, yet we continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to maintain the death penalty,” said Senator Boner.
“I believe the availability of a life without parole sentence adequately balances the need to protect public safety while recognizing the need to reduce the strain on taxpayer resources,” Senator Boner added.
Sweetwater County Legislators Cosponsor the Bill
House Bill 145, Death Penalty Repeal-2, was introduced in the Wyoming State Legislature this week by Representative Olsen and Senator Boner.
Speaker Steve Harshman, House Majority Leader Eric Barlow, and House Majority Whip Tyler Lindholm have all signed on as cosponsors.
Sweetwater County Senator Liisa Anselmi-Dalton (SD-12) and Sweetwater County Representative JoAnn Dayton-Selman (HD-17) are among the additional cosponsors of the bill.
Senator Anselmi-Dalton said there are both moral and economic arguments that support the repeal of the death penalty.
“It costs more to prosecute a death penalty case than one in which the death penalty is not invoked,” Senator Anselmi-Dalton said. “The death penalty is not a deterrent to most deadly crime and can be applied unevenly.”
“In addition, there have been death-row inmates who were exonerated by new evidence or enhanced science techniques. For these reasons I have agreed to co-sponsor this legislation,” she added.
Additional bill sponsors include Senator Bill Landen, Senator Stephan Pappas, and Senator Chris Rothfuss along with Representative Landon Brown, Representative Donald Burkhart, Jr., Representative Cathy Connolly, Representative Jamie Flitner, Representative David Miller, Representative Charles Pelkey, Representative Andy Schwartz and Representative Sue Wilson.
Differing Opinions from Sweetwater County Representatives
Sweetwater County Representative Stan Blake (HD-39) said he is in favor of eliminating the death penalty, and he is an “aye vote” as the bill is proposed now.
“I believe that currently there are no persons on death row in Wyoming at this time. It would also save money to the State Public Defenders Office and money savings to Counties as well,” Representative Blake said.
Representative Blake echoed Senator Anselmi-Dalton’s remarks about obtaining new evidence years later.
“There are also many examples of those wrongly accused and sentenced to death and then new evidence is obtained years later,” he said.
However, Sweetwater County Representative Clark Stith (HD-48) said he does not support the bill “in its present form”.
“I believe that capital punishment should be reserved to first degree murder cases where the identity of the perpetrator is not in dispute and there are extreme circumstances, such as acts of terrorism or the murder of a prison guard by an inmate who is already serving a life term,” Representative Stith said.
“As the U.S. Supreme Court has said, society may have a legitimate interest in retribution. Repeal of the death penalty in all cases would go too far,” Representative Stith added.
Legislation Would Make Life Without Parole the Most Severe Sentence in Wyoming
The legislation would repeal the death penalty in Wyoming, making life without parole the most severe sentence available.
The fiscal note on the bill, completed by the nonpartisan Legislative Service Office, estimates the elimination of the death penalty would save the State of Wyoming approximately $750,000 in expenditures in FY2020 alone.