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Effort Launched to Ban Death Penalty in Montana
Two Democrats and two Republicans sponsored the legislation
HELENA – Four Montana legislators spearheading a bipartisan effort to replace the death penalty with life in prison say they have a good chance of success this session.

The anti-death penalty group Montana Abolition Coalition introduced their proposal Monday with two Democratic and two Republican sponsors.

Efforts to repeal the death penalty have cleared the state Senate the last two legislative sessions but died in the House. Backers said they are going to start in the House this time in an effort to get the measure to a floor debate in that chamber.

Death penalty opponents argue the punishment is immoral, costly and makes it possible to execute an innocent person. Some Republican foes argue they can't be both opposed to abortion and support the death penalty.

"We've all come to the conclusion that the death penalty has failed in Montana," said Rep. Doug Kary, R-Billings. "The system we have has failed us. And the conclusion is the death penalty must go."

State Sen. Dave Wanzenried, a Missoula Democrat and veteran of past legislative fights over the death penalty, said he does not know of a case where Montana wrongly executed an innocent man — but it could happen.

"Do we want to keep at this until me make sure we execute someone who is innocent?" he said.

Death penalty backers say it provides fair justice and serves as an important deterrent.

Montana has two prisoners awaiting execution amid separate legal arguments over the constitutionality of the lethal injection method used by the state. Opponents argue it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because of the possibility pain could be felt.

One of those prisoners, Canadian Ronald Allen Smith, has a pending request for clemency with the governor's office.

Smith originally sought the death penalty and spurned a plea deal after pleading guilty in 1983 to the shooting deaths of two Blackfeet Indian cousins. He later changed his mind and said he is a far different man now than the troubled youth behind those killings.
 
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