Posted at 12:45p.m., April 15, 2015

Wyoming death penalty lives on

Wyoming’s death penalty bill doesn’t seem to want to kill itself anytime in the near future.

The Wyoming Legislature recently voted down House Bill 97 to repeal the death penalty. The vote, a tight decision of 5-4, decided against changing execution as a form of punishment. Wyoming remains one of 32 states with capital punishment and has one person on death row.

The death penalty hasn’t been used since 1992 and many different considerations have developed concerning its use since then. The death chamber, firing squad and lethal injection have all been considered in the past, and more recent bills concerning the way the penalty is handled have brought even more controversy to the issue.

“If we repealed the death penalty, I think it would have gotten a lot more national attention and publicity,” said Dan Zwonitzer, R-Laramie, who was pro-death penalty.

“I don’t think it would get much national press,” Zwonitzer continued. “It could have if it was going to repeal the death penalty in general or if they tried to add or repeal the death penalty in the bill.”

On the other hand, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) executive director and lobbyist Linda Burt disagreed in that it simply wouldn’t have been “tremendously effective on a national level” because Wyoming does not have many people on death row.

“We’re not known as an executing state,” she said. “Interestingly enough, conservative as we are, we don’t seem to be very bloodthirsty. So that’s a good thing.”

But even with the current death penalty, Burt said she believed it was not a deterrent to crime. She said the death penalty was most often given to minorities and poor people. Burt said the ACLU was working this legislative session to repeal the death penalty, but the bill’s failure disappointed them.

“It didn’t get out of Wyoming because there’s still that very kind of rigid law enforcing-law enforcement background in Wyoming, and so we look for crime and punishment, and it’s still a conservative state on that level,” she explained.

By trying to improve the way crimes are handled, Burt and Zwonitzer both agreed on another strategy. “We should always focus on rehabilitating if possible,” Zwonitzer said, but believing the death penalty should be used only on certain crimes.

Rehabilitation efforts being looked into

However, Burt went even further believing that rehabilitation was the fiscally responsible step to take. “Rehabilitation does factor in terms of what the legislators are looking at in expenditures, so it’s much smarter to rehabilitate people than it is to put them in prison,” she said. Raising the issue of recidivism, the rate of re-offense, Burt said she thought it would decrease if the state rehabilitated.

Either way, the Legislature probably will see more attempts to deal with the death penalty. “It’s such an issue that we’re all aware of that I don’t think is going away until we have solved it,” Zwonitzer said.