CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A bill that could repeal Wyoming’s death penalty will go in front of the Wyoming House of Representatives this week.
HB 166 is an act “relating to crimes and offenses and criminal procedure; repealing the death penalty; eliminating procedures related to the imposition and execution of death sentences; making conforming amendments; providing applicability; remanding existing death sentences; repealing obsolete provisions; and providing for an effective date.”
The number in the bill represents the number of wrongfully convicted and exonerated individuals since capital punishment resumed in 1976.
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The law would go into effect immediately upon signing by Gov. Mark Gordon. Lobbyist Marguerite Herman told Oil City News that she believes the bill will be voted on by the House either Wednesday, Feb. 12 or Thursday, Feb. 13. The bill has 28 sponsors from the House, including Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, and 11 senators backing the bill. Twenty-six of the sponsors are Republicans.
“As conservatives, we simply do not trust the government to get it right,” prime bill sponsor Rep. Jared Olsen said in a news release. “The number of people freed from death rows backs us up, which is why we numbered the bill 166. As fiscal conservatives, we cannot justify spending about a million dollars a year on a program our state has not used in nearly three decades.”
Last year, there were 56 Republican death penalty repeal sponsors in 10 states, according to Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a nationwide group of conservatives questioning whether capital punishment is consistent with conservative principles and values, due to the system’s inefficiency, inequity and inaccuracy.
“Ending the death penalty is the conservative thing to do,” State Coordinator of Wyoming Conversatives Concerned About the Death Penalty Kylie Taylor said in a release. “It will cut costs to taxpayers, protect the sanctity of human life and guard against the government overreaching and executing an innocent person.”
The ACLU of Wyoming also sent a letter to legislators on Tuesday, Feb. 11, noting its belief that the state’s death penalty laws violate both the United States and Wyoming’s Constitutions. This is a reiteration of the group’s statement from January. In the statement, the ACLU cited numerous studies that have been conducted which investigate the racial bias inherent in the death penalty.
Since 2006, 14 capital murder cases have been brought by Wyoming prosecutors and 43% were against people of color, even though these groups comprise only 16% of the state’s population.
“Due to the unique and irreversible nature of ending a person’s life, death penalty statutes must satisfy complex legal requirements in order to remain constitutional,” the release stated. “Over the years, courts at both the federal and state levels have regularly held that these statutes can easily violate our nation’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.”