Death Penalty’s Foes Plead their Case to Lawmakers

Posted on February 8, 2011



HELENA — The death penalty costs too much, hurts more than it heals, and has no place in a civilized society, those seeking to end capital punishment in Montana told legislators today. Those who want to keep it said the exact opposite.

Bills to abolish the death penalty have come before every Montana Legislature for more than a decade.  Each time they have faded quietly and in glaring contrast to the emotional debate that brought it. Last session, similar legislation passed the Senate but died in the House.

Senate Bill 185, sponsored by Sen. David Wanzenried, D-Missoula, would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the option of parole.

“For a punishment to be effective it must be swift and it must be sure and the death penalty is neither,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He added that capital punishment takes the focus away from victims and puts it on offenders while also diverting money from protecting the public.

Supporters included the wrongly convicted and family members of murder victims. One of those, Diana Cote, said that after she daughter Tasheena was murdered in 2007 the idea of seeking the death penalty just piled pain on top of hurt.

“That’s not how I was raised,” she said, “to kill.”

The opposition, however, included victims’ families, too. Rep. Roy Hollandsworth’s father was murdered and his brother wounded by a deranged hired hand with a .30-30 lever-action rifle. The man was not sentenced to death and was subsequently released near the end of his life to avoid the state bearing the cost of his cancer treatment.

Hollandsworth was just a child at the time and doesn’t remember the attack, but said the man’s existence left his family in a state of fear.

Rep. Tom Berry lost his son to tremendous violence and said that fear of the death penalty forced the slayer to take a plea deal. Berry said it spared his family from going through the long and painful trial process and having to see and hear things that would have only amplified their pain.

The bill’s supporters, including some former Montana prosecutors, said any use of the death penalty as a bargaining chip was deplorable.

No action was taken on the bill.

– Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at

Posted in: Daily Grind