HELENA – The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday on a bill to abolish the death penalty in the state.
House Bill 350, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins (R-Missoula) would replace the death penalty with a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Groups like the Montana Innocence Project and ACLU of Montana support the bill.
Those groups worry about the potential for innocent people to end up on death row.
ACLU Advocacy and Policy Director SK Rossi said during the hearing that the death penalty unfairly affects people from certain ethnic and economic backgrounds.
“A person’s chance of being executed goes up if they are not white, not wealthy or not mentally sound. As I’ve said before in this committee, the only way to guarantee a fair system that does not put innocent people to death is to abolish capital punishment completely,” Rossi said.
Opponents of the bill argue the state already has the ability to sentence murderers to life in prison without parole.
The state’s last execution was in 2006. Two men remain in prison after being sentenced to die. Ronald Allen Smith pleaded guilty to killing Blackfoot Tribal members in 1983 while William Jay Gollehon beat a fellow inmate during the 1991 riot at the prison.
-Jacob Fuhrer reporting for MTN News