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death penalty

Death Row Exoneree Testifies In Support of Wyoming Repealing Death Penalty

in News/Legislature/Crime
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man who once sat on death row for a crime he did not commit recently testified in support of Wyoming repealing its death penalty.

Ray Krone testified before the Senate Revenue Committee last week, telling the story of how he was wrongly accused in 1991 of killing a woman who was found dead in a Phoenix bar he frequented.

“I used to support the death penalty, since it wouldn’t affect me and my family, so what do I care about it?” Krone said in his testimony. “I found out how wrong I was when I was 35 years old and got sentenced to death in Phoenix, Arizona.”

Krone was convicted one year after his arrest due to dental impressions found on the victim’s body that supposedly matched his. Ten years later, Krone was exonerated when it was discovered the woman was actually killed by another man who was also known for being a violent sexual predator.

The Wyoming Legislature is considering Senate File 150 (sponsored by Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas), which would repeal the state’s death penalty. The Senate was to debate the bill on Wednesday, but its discussion was held back for a day because of weekend blizzard that halted activity in southeastern Wyoming for two days.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the last person executed in Wyoming was Mark Hopkinson in 1992.

During a Senate Revenue Committee meeting on March 4, Boner explained his reasoning behind the bill.

“It’s during time of fiscal constraint that it’s more important than ever we reassess state government and maybe some things that used to work in the past are no longer relevant,” the senator said.

He described the death penalty as a rusty old tool on the shelf that didn’t work and was expensive.

There is only one person on death row in Wyoming, Dale Eaton, convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering a Montana teenager in 1988 and then throwing her body into the North Platte River. His death sentence was overturned by a federal judge in 2014 although prosecutors said they would continue to seek his execution.

Wyoming’s Legislature passed a bill in 2004 banning the death penalty for juveniles.

Krone’s testimony to the committee was part of partnership between his organization of death row exonerees, “Witness to Innocence,” and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming.

The ACLU of Wyoming has been a major proponent behind repealing the death penalty in the state, arguing it is costly and ineffective.

The ACLU believes the death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law.

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, who is a co-sponsor of the bill (along with 12 other legislators, both Democrat and Republican), shared a video of the March 4 meeting with an impassioned plea.

“Let’s end the death penalty once and for all. Let’s end it now!” he wrote on social media.

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Group opposing death penalty opens Wyoming chapter

in News/Criminal justice
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By Robert Geha, Cowboy State Daily

An organization made up of political conservatives seeking an end to the death penalty opened a chapter in Wyoming this week.

Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty officially opened a chapter in Wyoming during a news conference in Cheyenne on Thursday. The group has chapters in 10 other states.

Kyle Taylor, the Wyoming coordinator for the group, described the organization as a network of conservatives who do not believe capital punishment fits within their principles.

“As a conservative, I believe in small government and I believe the death penalty is a huge government overreach and a very big failed government program,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “I believe in valuing life and we know that executing our own citizens does not value the sanctity of life.”

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, last year sponsored a bill during the Legislature’s general session that would have done away with the death penalty. The bill was approved in the House, but died in the Senate.

Olsen said the death penalty’s most vocal opponents in the past have been liberals and the Catholic church, but he added the issue actually crosses political and religious lines.

“It’s an everybody issue and that’s why you’ll find people from all faiths and people from all political backgrounds,” he said.

Mike Leman, a deacon for the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, said for the church, the issue is one of the sanctity of life.

“We look at it as consistency in respecting the dignity of human life,” he said. “First of all, recognizing the difficulty of victims and victims’ families. But we don’t think (the death penalty) is something that gives victims what they’re hoping for, the ultimate healing.”

The Legislature’s budget session begins Feb. 10. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must support a review of any bill not related to the budget — like a death penalty bill — before it can be considered.

Death penalty repeal supporter sees chance for bill in 2020

in News/Criminal justice
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By Cowboy State Daily

A measure aimed at repealing Wyoming’s death penalty may stand a better chance of winning approval in the Legislature’s 2020 session than it has in the past, according to a supporter.

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said as people have become more aware of the problems associated with the death penalty, they have been more prone to discuss it with their legislators.

“The community is much more aware of what’s going on and they’re much more involved,” he said. “So I think with that involvement and more personal conversations with our senators to make them understand particularly the fiscal consequences of not repealing the death penalty, I think we have a better shot of getting it all the way through this time.”

Olsen proposed a measure during the Legislature’s general session earlier this year that would have abolished the death penalty and replaced it with a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The bill was approved in the House on a vote of 36-21, but was defeated in the Senate, where it received only 12 “yes” votes from the state’s 30 senators.

The 2020 session is a budget session, which means all bills not related to the budget need to win a two-third majority vote to even be considered by the Legislature.

Olsen’s main argument in opposition to the death penalty has been the expense involved in the prosecution and unavoidable appeals that accompany a death penalty case.

In addition, he said, the Legislature needs to consider what may happen if an innocent person is condemned to death.

“If we got it wrong and executed the individual, there is no way to undo that,” he said.

Opponents of Olsen’s bill argued during this year’s session that the death penalty provides justice for the victims of murder. Prosecutors argued that its elimination would take away a valuable plea bargaining tool.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said he believes the death penalty may actually be more humane than life in prison.

“Caging someone up like an animal for some years of their lives just doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “Our whole world is based on contributing to society in some fashion. And locking somebody up forever just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Wyoming Legislature: Where they are

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Wyoming Legislature bill analysis where they are
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Here is the status of some bills making their way through the Legislature’s general session:

HB 14 — Creating the “Mountain Daylight Savings Time” zone for Wyoming. Defeated in Senate “Committee of the Whole.”

HB 38 — Raising legislative expense reimbursements from $109 per day to $149. Vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

HB 52 — Giving preference to Wyoming-made products in furnishing state buildings. Awaiting governor’s signature.

HB 66 — Setting a statewide lodging tax of 5 percent. Approved in second reading in Senate.

HB 71 — Raising the penalty for violating equal pay rules to $500 per day. Signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon.

HB 140 — Imposing a 48-hour waiting period to perform abortions. No action will be taken in Senate committee before the end of session.

HB 145 — Eliminating the death penalty. Killed in Senate “Committee of the Whole.”

HB 192 — Requiring photo ID to vote. Killed on third reading in House.

HB 220 — Imposing an income tax on out-of-state companies with business locations in Wyoming. Died without review in Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

HB 251 — Authorizing Wyoming to sue the state of Washington over it refusal to allow the construction of a coal port. Approved in second reading in Senate.

HJ 1 — Asking the federal government to delist the grizzly bear. Signed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

SF 46 — Limiting the length of a prescription of opioids to 14 days. Approved in second reading in House.SF 57 — Setting a deadline for the release of public documents by government agencies. Awaiting report of “joint conference committee” to resolve Senate, House differences.

SF 119 — Making all expenditures by the state auditor’s office public and available for review. Died without review in House Appropriations Committee.

SF 129 — Repealing requirements for reports from the state Department of Education. Awaiting governor’s signature.

SF 148 — Allowing the state to seize and operate federal facilities — including national parks — under certain conditions. Killed in House Minerals Committee.

SF 149 — Creating a “Capitol Complex” around the state Capitol and giving the state building commission authority for planning in the area. Approved in first reading in the House.

SF 160 — Requiring changes in voter party affiliation to take place two weeks before absentee ballots are distributed. Died without review by House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

SJ 3 — Declaring Dec. 10, 2019, as Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day. Signed into law by governor.

Wyoming Legislative Week-in-Review

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Bills to repeal Wyoming’s death penalty and impose a 48-hour waiting period for abortions both died in the state’s Legislature this week, while a bill that would provide bonuses for state investment professionals who make good investments is headed to the governor’s office for his signature.

Cowboy State Daily’s Robert Geha has the rundown on the legislative winners and losers for the week.

Wyoming Legislature: Where they are

in News/Taxes/Education
Wyoming Legislature bill analysis where they are
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By Cowboy State Daily

Here is a look at the status of some of the bills being considered by Wyoming’s Legislature during its general session:

  • HB 14 — Creating the “Mountain Daylight Savings Time” zone for Wyoming. Defeated in Senate “Committee of the Whole.”
  • HB 38 — Raising legislative expense reimbursements from $109 per day to $149. Awaiting governor’s signature.
  • HB 52 — Giving preference to Wyoming-made products in furnishing state buildings. Awaiting governor’s signature.
  • HB 66 — Setting a statewide lodging tax of 5 percent. Introduced in Senate, referred to Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.
  • HB 71 — Raising the penalty for violating equal pay rules to $500 per day. Awaiting governor’s signature.
  • HB 140 — Imposing a 48-hour waiting period to perform abortions. No action will be taken in Senate committee before the end of session.
  • HB 145 — Eliminating the death penalty. Killed in Senate “Committee of the Whole.”
  • HB 192 — Requiring photo ID to vote. Killed on third reading in House.
  • HB 220 — Imposing an income tax on out-of-state companies with business locations in Wyoming. Introduced in Senate, referred to Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Comittee.
  • HB 251 — Authorizing Wyoming to sue the state of Washington over it refusal to allow the construction of a coal port. Introduced in Senate, referred to Senate Minerals Committee.
  • HJ 1 — Asking the federal government to delist the grizzly bear. Awaiting governor’s signature.
  • SF 46 — Limiting the length of a prescription of opioids to 14 days. Introduced by House, referred to Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.
  • SF 57 — Setting a deadline for the release of public documents by government agencies. Approved on second reading in House.
  • SF 119 — Making all expenditures by the state auditor’s office public and available for review. Introduced in House, referred to House Appropriations Committee.
  • SF 129 — Repealing requirements for reports from the state Department of Education. Joint conference committee appointed to resolve House and Senate differences.
  • SF 148 — Allowing the state to seize and operate federal facilities — including national parks — under certain conditions. Killed in House Minerals Committee.
  • SF 149 — Creating a “Capitol Complex” around the state Capitol and giving the state building commission authority for planning in the area. Approved by House Rules Committee.
  • SF 160 — Requiring changes in voter party affiliation to take place two weeks before absentee ballots are distributed. Introduced in House, referred to House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.
  • SJ 3 — Declaring Dec. 10, 2019, as Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day. Signed into law by governor.

Senator predicts effort to repeal death penalty will continue

in News/Criminal justice
Wyoming death penalty repeal Senator Brian Boner
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By Cowboy State Daily

Efforts to repeal Wyoming’s death penalty will probably continue despite the Legislature’s decision this week to kill a bill that would have eliminated the penalty, according to a Douglas legislator.

HB 145 would have made life without parole the harshest sentence that could be handed down in criminal cases. The bill was approved by Wyoming’s House, but defeated by the Senate in an 18-12 vote.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, said he believes the repeal effort will continue and gain more support in the future.

“As time goes on, I’m sure that we will continue to gain ground and eventually the death penalty will be repealed,” he said.

Supports of the bill had argued that the death penalty is too expensive for the state, given the number of appeals that generally accompany such cases.

Boner attributed the death of the measure this year to legislators who may remember when the death penalty was an effective deterrent to violent crime.

“Especially some of our older members probably remember when the death penalty was effective, when we did use it,” he said. “But that’s no longer the case.”

In Brief: Death penalty repeal killed in first Senate review

in News/Criminal justice
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By Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would have repealed Wyoming’s death penalty failed to pass its first review by the full Senate on Thursday.

HB 145 would have made life without the possibility of parole the harshest penalty that could be handed down in a Wyoming criminal case. It died in the Senate on a vote of 12-18 in its review in “Committee of the Whole,” the first reading of a bill by the full body.

Proponents of the bill argued that the death penalty is too expensive for the state, given the large number of appeals usually surrounding such cases and the cost of housing death row inmates.

The bill cleared the House last week on a vote of 36-21 and won unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee before being rejected on the Senate floor.

Death penalty repeal headed to Senate floor

in News/Criminal justice
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By Cowboy State Daily (updated: Feb. 13, 2019 7PM MT)

A proposed repeal of Wyoming’s death penalty is moving to the Senate floor for debate by the full body.

HB 145, already approved by the House, was passed on a 4-0 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. If approved in its Senate review, it would make life without parole the harshest penalty possible in Wyoming.

Testimony in support of the bill before the committee focused largely on the cost of death penalty cases due to the multiple appeals involved and the cost of housing death row inmates.

Others, however, noted that since the death penalty has been reinstated nationally, 164 death row inmates have had their penalties or convictions overturned.

Gary Drinkard, mistakenly held for five years on Alabama’s death row, said life without parole is a far worse prospect than the death penalty.

“You get to spend the rest of your life in there and it’s torment,” he said. “It’s torment every day. You’ve got to deal with idiots every day.”

Matt Redle, the former prosecuting attorney for Sheridan County, said the issue is not one of equal justice because there is no such thing in murder cases.

“No matter what that verdict is and no matter what that sentence is, (families) don’t get their loved one back,” he said.

Death penalty repeal, abortion waiting period passed as Legislature nears midway point

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By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s legislators spent long hours on the floors of the House and Senate this week as they neared the midway point for their general session.

With a major deadline looming on Monday, legislators spent much of the week trying to get through a backlog of bills reviewed by committees and sent to the floor for debate.

One bill proposing a repeal of Wyoming’s death penalty won final approval and was sent to the Senate for its review. HB 145 would make life without the possibility of parole the harshest possible sentence in Wyoming.

Also approved in its final House review was HB 140, a bill that would impose a 48-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions. Under Wyoming law, a doctors must give a woman seeking an abortion the chance to see an ultrasound of the fetus or hear a recording of its heartbeat. The 48-hour waiting period would begin after that offer is made. The waiting period would be waived in emergencies.

A bill that would keep Wyoming on daylight savings time year-round is also headed to the Senate after its final approval in the House. The change outlined in HB 14 could only occur after three neighboring states agree to stick with daylight savings time through the year as well.

However, the House killed a bill aimed at luring film production companies to the state. HB 164 would have reimbursed production companies for some of their costs while filming in Wyoming.

Committees also killed several bills. A proposed $1 increase in taxes on a pack of cigarettes was killed by the House Revenue Committee. And the House Judiciary Committee killed HB 234, which would have made the possession of more than three ounces of marijuana a misdemeanor. That crime is now a felony.

On Monday, representatives and senators will get their last chance to review bills on “General File.” Those are the bills that have been reviewed by committees and sent back to their chambers of origin for debate by the full body. Any bill on the “General File” not reviewed by the end of business Monday will be dead for this session.

The bills approved in three readings in the chamber where they started — the House or Senate — will now head to the other chamber for a second review.

Death penalty repeal, abortion waiting period passed as Legislature nears midway point

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s legislators spent long hours on the floors of the House and Senate this week as they neared the midway point for their general session.

With a major deadline looming on Monday, legislators spent much of the week trying to get through a backlog of bills reviewed by committees and sent to the floor for debate.

One bill proposing a repeal of Wyoming’s death penalty won final approval and was sent to the Senate for its review. HB 145 would make life without the possibility of parole the harshest possible sentence in Wyoming.

Also approved in its final House review was HB 140, a bill that would impose a 48-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions. Under Wyoming law, a doctors must give a woman seeking an abortion the chance to see an ultrasound of the fetus or hear a recording of its heartbeat. The 48-hour waiting period would begin after that offer is made. The waiting period would be waived in emergencies.

A bill that would keep Wyoming on daylight savings time year-round is also headed to the Senate after its final approval in the House. The change outlined in HB 14 could only occur after three neighboring states agree to stick with daylight savings time through the year as well.

However, the House killed a bill aimed at luring film production companies to the state. HB 164 would have reimbursed production companies for some of their costs while filming in Wyoming.

Committees also killed several bills. A proposed $1 increase in taxes on a pack of cigarettes was killed by the House Revenue Committee. And the House Judiciary Committee killed HB 234, which would have made the possession of more than three ounces of marijuana a misdemeanor. That crime is now a felony.

On Monday, representatives and senators will get their last chance to review bills on “General File.” Those are the bills that have been reviewed by committees and sent back to their chambers of origin for debate by the full body. Any bill on the “General File” not reviewed by the end of business Monday will be dead for this session.

The bills approved in three readings in the chamber where they started — the House or Senate — will now head to the other chamber for a second review.

In Brief: Death penalty repeal moves to third House review

in News
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An effort to repeal Wyoming’s death penalty won approval in its second reading in Wyoming’s House Thursday, moving it one reading away from gaining full approval.

HB 145 would make life without the possibility of parole the harshest possible sentence that could be handed down in Wyoming. The bill was approved in its second reading by representatives, setting it up for a third and final reading in the House.

Supporters of the measure argue it would save the state money because of the legal costs associated with death penalty sentences. Opponents maintain the repeal would take a tool away from prosecutors.

If approved in the House, the bill would be sent to the Senate for its review.

Death penalty bill clears first House vote

in News
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A bill that would repeal Wyoming’s death penalty won preliminary approval from Wyoming’s House on Wednesday.

HB 145 would make life without the possibility of parole the harshest sentence that could be handed down in the state. It was approved in its “Committee of the Whole” review — the first time a bill is reviewed by all House members. It now moves to its second of three readings in the House.

Bill sponsors have argued the measure will save the state money, given the number of appeals that usually accompany a death sentence. Opponents maintain the bill takes a tool away from prosecutors.

Man freed from prison says life in prison preferable sentence for killer

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

The death penalty is not the best way to punish a killer for his crimes, according to a man whose murder conviction and death penalty were overturned in 2004.

Randy Steidl, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in the 1986 death of a couple, was at the Legislature this week to lobby in favor of SF 145, which would repeal the state’s death penalty and make life without the possibility of parole the state’s harshest criminal penalty.

Steidl said a lifetime of incarceration is a preferable punishment for a convicted murderer.“If you really want to punish a vicious killer, you put them in a cage for the rest of their life to think about the crimes they committed,” he said. “If they don’t repent to their God, then when they die, they burn in Hell. That’s justice.”

The House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee voted 5-4 last week to send the bill to the House floor for debate by the full body. It is on the House’s “General File,” a list of bills waiting for their first full review.

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