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  1. #1
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    Montana Capital Punishment News

    Execution chamber stays

    Montana's execution chamber, an old renovated, single-wide trailer house, is not going anywhere, despite a recent judge's order indicating the beige, metal building was to be disassembled and removed by the end of the month.

    The chamber and the executions that go on there are the subject of a 2008 lawsuit brought by Ronald Smith, a man facing the death penalty in Montana who argues lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

    That lawsuit was put on hold earlier this month after state lawyers told Helena District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock the state intended to remove the trailer by Feb. 1 and begin building a new room at the prison that could host executions.

    "The court was made aware that the current execution chamber at Montana State Prison will be disassembled and moved off the premises as of Feb. 1, 2010," reads an order Sherlock signed on Jan. 7.

    But it turns out that the trailer isn't going anywhere.

    Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Anez said Tuesday the department has no plans to move the trailer, adding that it could potentially be used for executions, even as construction on a new execution site begins.

    "It is not being disassembled and moved off," Anez said.

    Ron Waterman, the Helena lawyer representing Smith in the lawsuit, said Tuesday it didn't matter to him if the trailer was actually taken away; it matters that it not be used again. Waterman said he didn't think the trailer would be used again, even though Corrections has said it will remain a viable execution site for the foreseeable future.

    "It's really irrelevant," Waterman said.

    Montana has two men awaiting a death sentence and both have appeal cases pending. Neither of those cases is expected to be resolved before the new execution site has been built.

    Corrections is set to begin building a storage area attached to the maximum security unit where inmates sentenced to death are housed. That 800-square foot area will also be designed to allow it to function as a site of executions.


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    Death penalty, physician-assisted suicide bills planned for 2011 Legislature

    Montana lawmakers soon will be considering bills to ban the death penalty and to allow or forbid physician-assisted suicide when a terminally ill patient requests it.

    The 2011 Legislature also will take up a proposal to add sexual orientation and "gender identity and expression" to the state Human Rights Act and protect those classes of people from discrimination. Niki Zupanic of ACLU Montana said many of the new legislators were swept in with the national sentiment for a smaller, limited government.

    "We're hoping that sentiment will hold true on social issues as well," she said. "Things like a woman's right to choose, reproductive freedom and freedom for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community."

    The ACLU again will be working to ban the death penalty in Montana. The Senate approved a ban in 2009, but it stalled in a House committee on a tied vote.

    "On the issue of whether the state should continue to hold onto this broken system of holding onto the death penalty, it costs way too much, it doesn't work and it's a poor use of tax dollars," Zupanic said.

    Sen. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula, will sponsor the bill to abolish the death penalty.

    As for physician-assisted suicide, Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, is introducing legislation to implement a 2009 Montana Supreme Court decision to allow this procedure when a terminally ill patient requests it.

    "My sense is that terminally ill Montanans really do want to have this choice available to them, not that large numbers of people take advantage of it," Barrett said when requesting the bill draft earlier this year.

    "We'll be advocating for Montanans to continue to have access in aid in dying and to make those decisions with their doctor without government interference," Zupanic said.

    (Source: The Missoulian)

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    Bill introduced to repeal Montana's death penalty

    Legislators are again trying to end Montana's death penalty. Missoula Senator Dave Wazenried (D) is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 185, which would replace the death penalty.

    The bill has the support of Missoula senators Ron Erickson (D), Cliff Larson (D) and Carol Williams (D). Eight other democrats and six republicans make up the bill's other signatories.

    Under the proposed measure, a prisoner would never become eligible for parole and could never be released from prison.


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    Death penalty hot topic in Montana Legislature

    HELENA - The Montana Legislature took up the issue of the death penalty on Tuesday.

    Montana State Senator David Wanzenreid (D-Missoula) is bringing a bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee which would abolish the death penalty.

    Wanzenreid says the death penalty has been "failing us" for decades, and that the death penalty allows criminals to become celebrities.

    He claimed that it is four to 10 times more expensive to execute someone than keep them in prison without parole.

    During the committee meeting, several people spoke out on the issue. Among those arguing for the abolition of the death penalty were a mother whose daughter was murdered; a man who was wrongfully charged with homicide; and a man who conducted executions, who spoke about how much it traumatized him.

    Some of those arguing against Wanzenreid's bill were State Representative Roy Hollandsworth (R-Brady), who said that his father was murdered, and the criminal was given life in prison, which now has Hollandsworth's mother living in fear.

    State Representative Tom Berry (R-Roundup) also addressed the committee, saying that his son was murdered and that he is an advocate for the death penalty

    Harris Himes, a pastor from Hamilton, spoke against the bill and said that if Jesus were alive, he would support the death penalty.

    Click here to read the full text of Senate Bill 185.


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    Death penalty ban advances in Montana legislature

    A proposed ban to the death penalty in Montana is headed to a vote on the Senate floor.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-5 Thursday in favor of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Supporters of the repeal argue the possibility of wrongfully putting an innocent person to death makes the death penalty unjust. Those who want to keep the death penalty argue it makes sense for those who commit heinous crimes.

    Sen. Anders Blewett of Great Falls says capital punishment is unfair because it is disproportionally levied against the poor.

    The death penalty repeal heads to the full Senate for the second straight session. In 2009, it made it out of that chamber and failed in the House.


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    Montana Senate endorses death penalty repeal

    The state Senate has endorsed a bill to repeal the death penalty.

    Senate Bill 185 sponsored by Democratic Sen. David Wanzenried of Missoula drew extensive debate Monday before the 26-24 floor vote.

    The bill now faces one more largely procedural vote in the Senate before going to the House.

    Supporters of the repeal argue the possibility of putting an innocent person to death makes the death penalty unjust. Those wanting to keep the death penalty argue it makes sense for those who commit heinous crimes.

    If the bill becomes law it will change the sentences of two inmates currently on Montana’s death row to life in prison without parole.

    (Source: The Great Falls Tribune)

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    Senate gives final passage to death penalty repeal

    The state Senate is sending a bill to repeal Montana's death penalty to the House, where the plan failed two years ago.

    A day after the Senate signaled its support for Senate Bill 185, the chamber gave it final passage Tuesday with another 26-24 vote.

    The bill drew the support of all the chamber's Democrats and four Republicans.

    If it passes, the bill will immediately replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole and could change the sentences of two inmates currently on death row.

    Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/news/2...#ixzz1E4oIwHA5

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    House Republicans stop repeal of death penalty, decide to keep antiquated anti-gay law

    House Republicans put a stop to plans to repeal the state's death penalty and to get rid of an obsolete state law that criminalizes gay sex.

    Both plans had cleared the state Senate, but the House Judiciary Committee tabled both proposals on Friday.

    The death penalty repeal would replace it with life in prison without parole. Supporters argue the risk of killing an innocent man is too great, while opponents argue it remains valuable punishment for heinous crimes.

    Efforts to remove the state law making gay sex subject to criminal penalties have failed over the years even though the courts have ruled it unconstitutional and unenforceable and advocates argue it sends a hostile message.

    House Republicans stuck with their party's platform that calls for keeping the anti-gay law.


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    $1 million set aside for public defenders office to handle death penalty cases

    KALISPELL - As Flathead County faces the possibility of its first death penalty trial since 1983, the state Office of Public Defenders is bracing for the enormous financial millstone that accompanies any capital case.

    In its first major budget request of this kind since its inception in 2006, the office asked for and received approximately $1 million from the 2011 Montana Legislature specifically to defend death penalty cases.

    The budgetary line item represents about one-quarter of the $4 million that was added to the agency's budget; some, if not all, of the allocation will pay for the extensive defense work in the double homicide case of Tyler Michael Miller.

    Formerly known as Tyler Cheetham, the 34-year-old Miller is charged with two counts of deliberate homicide for the Christmas Day shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her 15-year-old daughter.

    The Office of the State Public Defender has not had a capital case go to trial since its formation, but the estimated costs of defending such a case are exorbitant.

    "We haven't had a case go full term yet, so we are not able to tell the world what the exact cost would be using actual empirical data," said Harry Freebourn, administrative director of the public defenders office. "With this case, however, we are proceeding as if it were a death penalty case. We are staffing accordingly and ensuring that the defendant has a legal team with the requisite skills needed to proceed."


    Both the U.S. Supreme Court and Montana Supreme Court have carved out a very specific procedure governing death penalty cases, with added layers of legal precautions that don't exist in a typical criminal case.

    In making its budget request, the Office of Public Defender presented a detailed cost analysis to the 2011 Legislature regarding the cost of defending a death penalty case, Freebourn said. Even though numerous experts attested to the substantial costs, it posed a challenge given that the costs were never tallied under the old public defender system.

    "Nobody kept track of those expenses previously," he said. "That was one of the reasons behind assembling the statewide system. We want to make sure we are tracking every single penny."

    Freebourn said the $1 million line item includes all death penalty cases that might arise in Montana, and emphasized that it was not intended to be singularly exhausted on the Miller case. However, the latter remains a possibility.

    "This one case could cost $200,000 or $300,000 or it could cost a million," he said. "But the next death penalty case could come around the corner tomorrow."

    The Flathead County Attorney's Office has presented strong evidence in support of the murder charges against Miller, but there is no such thing as an open-and-shut capital case when it proceeds to trial.


    Capital cases involve more investigation, more lawyers, more pre-trial motions, more expert witnesses, a longer jury selection process, and separate trials to determine a defendant's guilt and whether the offense warrants a death sentence.

    Add to that countless other expenses that accrue even before a single appeal is filed and the costs quickly stack up.

    "The United States Supreme Court says death is different," said Missoula Regional Deputy Public Defender Ed Sheehy, explaining the added requirements of a capital case. "Death penalty cases get very complex and they are very long and costly."

    Sheehy is on a short list of lawyers in Montana who possess the training, background and qualifications required to represent a defendant charged with a capital offense. Sheehy has represented eight capital punishment cases, and is currently assisting Public Defender Noel Larrivee with the defense in Miller's case in Kalispell.

    "To begin with, you have to file a lot of motions that you might not ordinarily file," Sheehy said. "Then there's a trial, a penalty hearing and an automatic appeal. Then the defendant gets a whole new set of lawyers who can raise all kinds of claims."

    Sheehy said the last time he represented a defendant convicted of a capital offense the penalty hearing alone lasted two weeks.

    A capital case requires at least two jury trials, and often three - one to determine whether a defendant is guilty of the crime, another to determine whether aggravating circumstances exist to justify the death penalty, and still another (called a penalty hearing) at which prosecutors present additional evidence to support the defendant's execution.

    At the penalty hearing, the defense team must call on a mitigation specialist whose job it is to gather facts in support of any mitigating circumstances that might be relevant to the case - circumstances usually precluded from being admitted at a criminal trial.

    Groups that advocate abolishing the death penalty say the amount of time invested in death penalty cases could be better spent investigating and prosecuting other cases.

    During the 2011 Montana Legislature, the Montana Abolition Coalition actively supported Senate Bill 185, which would have abolished the death penalty and replaced it with life without parole.

    Jennifer Kirby, who coordinates the coalition, said Montana has never conducted a comprehensive study about what costs the state incurs in death penalty cases, but studies in other states suggest it is substantial.

    "Such a study is needed to determine the true price tag and resulting tradeoffs of our state's capital punishment system," Kirby said. "The Montana Legislature should be eliminating waste in our system, and here it is allocating a million dollars to defend death penalty cases while it makes significant cuts in other areas that negatively affect thousands of Montanans."

    More than a dozen states have found that the death penalty is up to 10 times more expensive than sentences of life or life without parole, according to Kirby.

    A 2002 study by Dartmouth College and the National Bureau of Economic Research, titled "The Budgetary Repercussions of Capital Convictions," found that the costs of the death penalty are borne primarily by increasing taxes, with county budgets bearing the brunt of the burden.

    In Montana, the Office of the State Public Defender has assumed responsibility for statewide public defender services, which were previously provided by cities and counties.


    In Flathead County, which hasn't prosecuted a capital case in 28 years, since the 1983 deliberate homicide conviction of Ronald Allen Smith, government leaders maintain a contingency fund to help with the prosecution costs of a death penalty case.

    "It's the cost of doing business," said Flathead County Commissioner Jim Dupont, who is also the former Flathead County sheriff.

    Dupont was a sheriff's deputy when he arrested Smith in 1982 in East Glacier for a double murder. Smith continues to challenge the state's method of lethal injection, arguing that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

    When a death penalty case arises, Dupont said, "it doesn't cost you all at once. It's built into your reserves."

    "These don't come along very often," Dupont said. "I can only recall two in my whole career."

    To support the possibility of a death sentence in the Miller case, Flathead County prosecutors have filed excerpts of investigative interviews in which Miller admits to shooting Jaimi Lynn Hurlbert, 35, and her daughter, Alyssa Burkett.

    In the filing, Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan wrote that the premeditated and brutal nature of the slayings warrant the death penalty.

    The sworn affidavit portrays Miller as remorseless and even proud of the killings, and provides details about how he plotted and carried out the murders in an unprovoked ambush outside the home of Miller's mother last Christmas Day.

    Still, many hurdles remain before the case proceeds to trial in November. Last week, Larrivee and Sheehy asked a Flathead District judge to rule that Montana's death penalty statutes are unconstitutional because the sentencing powers are vested in judges rather than juries.


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    Montana State Prison modifies execution protocol

    The Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge announced on Monday that it has modified its protocol for conducting executions in order to address changes in the availability of certain drugs and as a part of routine assessment of the procedures that are conducted whenever an execution date is set.

    The modifications include a provision allowing for the use of a substitute drug as the fast-acting barbiturate that causes unconsciousness and ensures the inmate will not experience pain during the process of injecting the other drugs as part of the lethal injection process.

    This provision is necessary due to the inability to obtain sodium thiopental, which was the initial drug that Montana and other states had used in executions until the manufacturer ceased production recently.

    The new protocol permits use of a substitute drug - pentobarbital - which has survived court challenges and been used successfully in other states.

    Other changes include additional safeguards to ensure that the drug is properly administered and, therefore, that the condemned is completely unconscious.

    Mike Mahoney, who signed the document on his last day as the Montana State Prison warden on August 12, emphasized that the adjustments to the 149-page document are neither novel nor experimental, as they have proven effective when used in other states with extensive experience in carrying out executions. He also noted that the review resulting in the changes was prompted by a district judge setting an execution date last fall for convicted double-murderer Ronald Smith.

    Mahoney noted, "Although that date eventually was vacated by the courts, we responded the way we always do when confronted with an imminent execution. We go through the procedures established and used in the past to determine if they can be refined based on what we have learned from previous executions and what is happening in other states regarding execution-related developments."

    It was that routine process that led to the revisions in the protocol, he added. "With the revised protocol in place, Montana State Prison is prepared to respond to a court order directing an execution be carried out and to fulfill its obligation in a safe, humane and professional manner."

    The changes include refining definitions of such items as the operations security chief, news media staging area and setup officer. The changes also require a "qualified official" appointed by the warden to sign the death warrant following an execution and clarify the timeline for inventorying items needed to conduct an execution.

    Other changes in the protocol:

    * Clarify timing of event starting with receipt of a death warrant through post-execution procedures

    * Add security measures such as a prohibition on cell phones in the execution chamber and establishment of security zones

    * Create new provisions for storage and handling of drugs used in an execution

    * Clarify qualification for the person setting up intravenous lines for administering lethal injection

    * Specify the training required for the executioner and allows the executioner to be a contract employee

    * Reduce the number of media witnesses from four to three, to comply with state law


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