CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A proposal to repeal the death penalty failed in the Wyoming Legislature on Thursday after drawing far more support from state lawmakers than ever before.
The 18-12 vote in the state Senate ended a fairly long run for a bill that failed early each of the past five legislative sessions. This year, concern about the death penalty's costs amid tight state budgets won over new repeal supporters.
"I finally decided that I can't go home and feel good about explaining to people all of those myriad of cuts we've made to the state budget and then defend expenditures like this, which have gone on for years and years and years," argued Republican Sen. Bill Landen, of Casper..
Ultimately, concern about going too easy on those who commit the worst crimes kept the bill from passing after it passed the House 36-21. The trend in parts of the U.S. is leniency toward criminals including murderers, argued Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, in floor debate.
"As things progress, and pretty soon people get more and more lenient in those cases, then these people may walk. I'm just not in favor of this," Bebout said.
Wyoming faces a tight fiscal outlook because of a drop in revenue from the state's coal, oil and natural gas industries. Repeal advocates pointed to the high cost of death-penalty cases for the state Public Defender's Office, which according to the bill's fiscal note would save about $750,000 a year by not having to take additional required measures to defend people facing the death penalty.
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Repeal proponents also tried to appeal to conservative reluctance about placing too much trust in government. Death-row convicts have been exonerated 164 times since the penalty's reinstatement in the U.S. in 1976, argued bill co-sponsor Brian Boner, a Douglas Republican.
"This is far too much authority to rest in government. Sometimes we wonder if whether our government can deliver the mail correctly," Boner told the Senate. "This is something that we have to get right each and every time."
Death-penalty advocates countered it can help bring closure for victims and is appropriate for the most heinous crimes.
"I don't think we're thinking about these people that see these heinous crimes being committed and the pain that they through. I don't think we see the closure in it, with what we're talking about," said Republican Sen. Anthony Bouchard, of Cheyenne.
Wyoming currently has no convicts facing the death penalty since a federal judge in 2014 threw out a death sentence for murderer Dale Wayne Eaton, who spent 10 years on death row. Wyoming's only execution since the U.S. reinstated capital punishment was in 1992.