Effort Reborn to Abolish Death Penalty in Montana

Similar bills have been proposed but never passed

By LISA BAUMANN, Associated Press

HELENA — Before the hearing began Friday at the Capitol on a bill that would abolish the death penalty, its sponsor Rep. Doc Moore warned the testimony would be “raw.”

The Republican form Missoula introduced House Bill 370 in the House Judiciary Committee. He told lawmakers his life has been touched by homicide four times but he thinks, as the bill states, instead of the death penalty people should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“I couldn’t imagine a worst fate than being locked up all my life,” Moore said.

Other supporters said the death penalty is expensive and using it shows that killing is a legitimate way to end a conflict.

Carolyn Madplume said her daughter Catherine was killed in 2005 and that she’s tired of what she called the criminal justice system’s concentration on what to do with the criminal and forgetting about the victims. She called the death penalty the most extreme example of that.

“Let’s spend energy and resources helping the victims instead,” Madplume said. “Let’s teach our communities that it’s the victims we want to talk about not the killers.”

Robert Filipovich said as someone who worked in Montana prisons for 25 years he is against putting people to death.

“In a nutshell we don’t find executions to be a picnic,” he said.

Opponents of the measure, who were outnumbered by supporters, say it’s a needed tool in the justice system. Two Republican lawmakers spoke in opposition, telling horrific stories of how homicide has affected their lives.

Rep. Tom Berry’s son was kidnapped, tortured and killed in 2001. He said he believes in the death penalty because it was successfully used to negotiate a guilty plea from one of the people who participated in his son’s killing.

Rep. Roy Hollandsworth of Brady said when he was 6-months-old, his father was murdered by a man at his family’s ranch. He said his mother and brother have lived their lives in fear ever since and that the shooter is now out on parole.

“My thought is, if you want to do something good … put it on a referendum and let voters choose,” he said.

Similar bills have made it through the Senate in prior years but in the past two legislative sessions they have failed to gain traction in the House.

Capital punishment is currently legal in 32 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Since 2009, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland have ended the use of the death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life imprisonment with no opportunity for parole.

Two men currently housed in the maximum-security unit at Montana State Prison have been sentenced to die.

The committee did not take action on the measure Friday.

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