CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A collection of Wyoming conservatives held a news conference on Thursday, January 2nd to announce the formation of a group that is working to repeal of Wyoming’s Death Penalty.
Wyoming Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, also known as CCATDP, is a network of social and political conservatives who question the alignment of capital punishment with conservative principles.
The new group joins the list of ten other state-based Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty movements that have previously launched.
According to their website, Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty is a project of Equal Justice USA, a national, non-partisan, grassroots organization working to transform the justice system by promoting responses to violence that break cycles of trauma.
During the press conference that was held at The Laramie County Library, the Wyoming CCATDP coordinator, Kylie Taylor, opened by saying “For myself, as a conservative, one of the biggest issues I have, is the risk of executing an innocent person. Since 1973 at least one-hundred and sixty five inmates have been exonerated. That comes to about one in ten inmates on Death Row that are exonerated and that is huge.”
“We know that the system isn’t perfect and that one mistake with a life is one too many,” Taylor continued.
GOP Representative from Cheyenne, Jared Olson spoke next and stressed that the concept of the death penalty is an issue that transcends politics. “It’s a people issue, it’s a moral issue, it’s a fiscal issue, and to me, it’s a limited government issue.”
Olson said that conservatives who are for limited government should be in favor of ending the death penalty.
“Conservatives have a hard time trusting the government to fix pot holes, to deliver the mail, to decide which businesses to support. Conservatives would rather the government stay out of the business of picking winners and losers in corporations. They want the government outside of all these areas in their lives. So why then would we concede that the government should be such an integral part of our justice system? It makes absolutely no sense,” Olson said.
During last year’s legislative session, Olson sponsored Senate Bill 145 that would have repealed the use of the death penalty in Wyoming. The bill was ultimately defeated in the Wyoming Senate by an 18-12 vote.
In his remarks Olson said that as a society we have to think about the moral considerations of capital punishment.
“If we are taking a person’s life because we believe it to be unjust that they took another person’s life, then executing them seems paradoxical and we ought to be more consistent with our morals and principals. Life is either precious or it’s not. Life is either God given or it’s not. If we believe that life is precious then we need to protect it all. Whether the life is innocent or committed an atrocity, to me it’s still a life and it should be protected,” Olson continued.
After Representative Olson concluded his statement, Deacon Mike Leman, the Legislative Liason for the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, addressed the audience.
“Society has a right and responsibility to protect themselves from violent individuals. Throughout history capital punishment has been an unfortunate necessity. However, with the advancement of technology and society is now capable of being safely housed in our maximum security prisons. In fact, our prison system, as imperfect as it is, does effectively protect our society from dangerous people every day. Capital punishment is no longer an unfortunate necessity. It’s just unfortunate,” Deacon Leman said in his opening remarks.
Deacon Lehman argued we are not living up to America’s founding document that said life is an inalienable right.
“Now is the time for Wyoming to change this law. 2020 is the year to repeal the death penalty,” Leman remarked.
Wyoming has not put anyone to death since Mark Hopkinsin was executed in 1992.
During the question and answer portion of the press conference, Taylor said that she was excited about the formation of CCATDP and how it would be working to repeal Wyoming’s death penalty law.
“I’m really looking forward to this upcoming legislative session. We are working really hard to build a great coalition with a diverse bunch of people. I think that it really shows how important this issue is when you individuals coming from different backgrounds to agree.”
Representative Olson said that he was bringing the bill to repeal the Death Penalty again in the upcoming legislative session.
When asked about how they were going to get more republicans leaders to come on board to vote to repeal the death penalty this year, Representative Olson said that the key would be educating them on the fiscal, moral and the role of government in our justice system.
“It’s irrational to be both pro-life and be in favor of the death penalty. How do we get people to understand that? Through educating them,” Olson said.
The Wyoming Legislature’s spring session is set to begin on Feb. 10.
According to a Casper Star Tribune report, distributed by the Associated Press, Wyoming’s last execution was in 1992.
A judge overturned the death sentence against the state’s only death-row inmate, Dale Wayne Eaton, in 2014. Eaton was convicted in 2004 of kidnapping, raping and killing a Montana woman, Lisa Marie Kimmell, in 1988.
A federal appeals court ruled in 2019 prosecutors could try again to pursue the death penalty against Eaton. They have not done so yet.