Why Ending the ‘Antiquated’ Death Penalty is on Wyoming GOP Agenda

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Photo by Charlie O'Hay via Flickr

As a conservative, I was not always in favor of ending the death penalty. I became conflicted about the practice as an adult; and as an attorney, I began to recognize the inherent flaws, bad incentives and corruption in the system.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been championing a piece of legislation that would end the death penalty in Wyoming. There are a growing number of conservatives who agree with me.

Nearly half of the legislature has signed on to my bill, and we expect to pass it within the next year.

A new study from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), “Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty,” continues to drive home the reasons that those who believe in limited government, individual liberty and protecting the sanctity of human life are turning against this antiquated policy.

At this point, most people know that the death penalty is overrun with errors.

We’ve had one person exonerated for every nine executions in this country and continue to find more. That’s a big deal. No one who claims to stand for pro-life values can credibly stand by such a system.

But in the report, we learn just how much more likely it is for Black people to be wrongfully convicted in this country.  They are 50 percent more likely to be wrongfully charged, tried, and convicted for a crime.

Given those figures, it is likely that the U.S. regularly executes innocent people.

The study also shows some pretty shocking graphics that illustrate the progression of the country’s practice of lynching to the modern-day death penalty system. In the first graph, you can see a mapping of where we know lynchings occurred in this country.

And in this second graph you can see where executions have predominately taken place in the country since reinstatement of the death penalty.

Prior to this report, we also already knew that the location where a crime is committed is the leading determinant in sentencing for capital punishment.

Only 2 percent of counties bring most death penalty cases, and all executions have come from fewer than 16 percent of our counties. And we knew that the race of the victim and defendant played a significant part in who received harsher punishments as well.

But the study takes this data a step forward and places it in its proper historical context – examining how Black people’s lives were weighted less under our laws for centuries, and tying that to our current reality where crimes against Black victims are less likely to be solved.

Additionally, while most violent crime is perpetrated against people of the same race as the victim (most crime is committed by people known to the victim as well), the study found that the death penalty was used most often against Black defendants in cases with a white victim, to the tune of 295 executions versus only 21 instances of the reverse being carried out.

Jared Olsen

State Rep. Jared Olsen (R-WY)

All of this shows that the system is operating in a highly biased way, that not only means Black people are more likely to be executed in this country, but also shows they are far more likely to be executed wrongfully.

These facts should compound the reasons to stand for repeal for those who are ideologically consistent and claim to support limited government, individual liberty, and pro-life causes.

This system fails to live up to those values in every way. It also should be of paramount concern if the government is carrying out state violence, ever, but especially if that state violent is disproportionately directed at one group of people.

We must live out our values and be principled.

It’s time for Republicans to lead on defeating racial bias at the hands of our government.

Jared Olsen is a Wyoming state representative from Cheyenne. He welcomes readers’ comments

2 thoughts on “Why Ending the ‘Antiquated’ Death Penalty is on Wyoming GOP Agenda

  1. I am delighted to see a conservative legislator to take a stand against capital punishment. I too am a conservative and once stood for capital punishment but I have witnessed first hand prosecutors misconduct. We need to address the plea bargain issue. This is tool used by unscrupulous prosecutors to over charge cases as a threat to obtain a plea.

  2. Olsen seems to have forgotten the crime that the last inmate executed in Wyoming committed. Mark Hopkinson arranged the murder of a lawyer who was involved in a land dispute, and that lawyer’s family. Their home was blown up. Hopkinson was locked up in a federal penitentiary, and when one of his associates was going to testify against him, Hopkinson arranged the murder of his associate. Jeff Green was found dead from a gunshot wound. He suffered over 150 cigarette burns, burns caused by a soldering iron, his eyes had been burned, his genitals had been mutilated, all of that done before death. Hopkinson was in a maximum security prison at the time. After being sentenced to death, Hopkinson repeatedly attempted to arrange the murders of the prosecutor and his family, as well as witnesses, despite being in maximum security. What did Hopkinson’s execution accomplish? It kept society safe. He has never arranged another murder again.

    Could we try solitary confinement? Maybe, but groups like Amnesty International are working to get rid of that punishment as well! Plus, solitary confinement by no means removes an inmate’s ability to contact the outside world. Inmates held in solitary confinement can still send and receive mail.

    The prosecutor at Hopkinson’s trial said it best: “Mr. Hopkinson has had his chance, not only once but twice proven, and the results have been disaster. Sometimes, someplace, society has to defend itself.” Imprisoning someone for life by no means removes the danger they can pose to society. Other prisoners and guards can and have been killed by incarcerated inmates serving life without parole. And, as Hopkinson shows, even people on the outside can be hurt. The extreme danger Hopkinson posed to the world ended only with his death.

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