Conservatives in some states push against death penalty

Associated Press
October 28, 2019 - 7:16 pm

(Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Conservatives in states including Wyoming, Utah and Ohio vowed Monday to keep pushing for the repeal of state-level death penalty sentences, even as U.S. officials move toward resuming federal executions.

The national group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty released a statement with over 250 signatures saying the death penalty is costly, prone to error and inconsistent with conservatives' opposition to abortion.

"We have come to the conclusion that the death penalty does not work and can't be made to work, not in spite of our conservative principles, but because of them," the statement read.

Twenty-nine U.S. states have the death penalty and four of those have moratoriums on the sentence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In Wyoming, the state Legislature last winter came the closest it had in recent memory to abolishing capital punishment.

The measure passed the Wyoming House but failed 18-12 in the state Senate. Repeal opponents argued in part that capital punishment encourages criminals to cooperate with investigators.

Republican state Rep. Jared Olsen of Cheyenne promised in a news conference with the anti-death-penalty group to try again with a bill in 2020.

U.S. officials announced in July that federal executions would resume after a 16-year informal moratorium.

"It puts us in categories of nations like North Korea, where we simply don't stand with our values," Olsen said about the federal move.

The debate in Wyoming last winter marked an abrupt shift on capital punishment in the Legislature where Republicans outnumbered Democrats 77-13.

Repeal advocates argued that having the law on the books costs the state almost $1 million a year, even though Wyoming hasn't had anybody on death row since 2014 and last executed someone in 1992.

The fiscal argument resonated as Wyoming struggles with lower revenue due to hard times in the coal and natural gas extraction industries.

Conservatives in Ohio and Utah, which also have large GOP statehouse majorities, voiced optimism Monday that death penalty repeal can catch on as a conservative cause.

Recently elected legislators in Utah seem more supportive of repeal in the state that reinstated the firing squad as an execution option in 2015, said Darcy Van Orden with the Utah Justice Coalition, which seeks criminal justice reforms including an end to the death penalty.

In Ohio, Republican Rep. Niraj Antani of Miamisburg said conservatives are being pushed to think about repeal.

"Even the chance of someone being put to death who could be innocent, I believe, for pro-life people across the country, is enough to oppose the death penalty," Antani said.

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