Poor Rep. Marti Halverson. She told other members of the House Judiciary Committee Monday she was “in a pickle.”
“My constituents let me vote for repealing the death penalty,” explained the Etna Republican. “But they told me they want the firing squad.”
The capital punishment bill failed to get out of the House earlier this session, but Senate File 13 to make firing squads the state’s official method of execution if lethal injection can no longer be used passed the Senate, 17-12.
Halverson kept her promise to vote in favor of firing squad, which deadlocked the panel at 4-4. Chairman Rep. David Miller (R-Riverton) broke the tie by voting for SF 13, which sends it to the full House.
Miller said it was a simple bill.
“Simple but barbaric,” corrected Charles Pelkey (D-Laramie), immediately letting the committee know how he planned to vote.
Only two members of the public testified on the bill, both representing churches. Donna Adler, lobbyist for the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, which covers all of Wyoming, agreed with Pelkey that the death penalty is indeed barbaric.
Adler said she realized the firing squad method was proposed because of problems prisons in the United States have had in purchasing the chemicals for the lethal injection procedure. Mostly manufactured in Europe, nations that oppose capital punishment have refused to sell them to American penal institutions.
The Catholic lobbyist said her diocese wants the Legislature to consider a moratorium on the death penalty.
Chesie Lee, director of the Wyoming Churches Association, said her coalition “opposes any method of execution.”
Rep. Matt Winters (R-Thermopolis) wanted to know how quickly an inmate killed by a firing squad would die, and whether the method was considered humane. Nobody actually answered his questions.
The urgency to approve SF 13 has passed, argued Rep. Matt Baker (R-Rock Springs), because the only inmate who had been on Wyoming’s death row — Dale Wayne Eaton, convicted of the 1988 murder, rape and kidnapping of Lisa Marie Kimmell — was granted a resentencing hearing by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Steve Lindly, deputy director of the Department of Corrections noted the last execution — which was carried out by lethal injection in 1992 — was of Mark Hopkinson, who was in a California federal prison when he was convicted of ordering the torture death of Jeffrey Green.
Winters asked how much pain was involved with an execution by firing squad. “Ask someone who got shot if it hurt,” replied Rep. Ken Esquibel (D-Cheyenne).
“It does seem like there’s not going to be a need very quickly,” said Rep. Bill Pownall (R-Gillette). “But I do agree that we need to have another form of execution. It’s not an easy decision, but Wyoming needs some type of law on the books about how it is going to carry out the death penalty.”
Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Casper), Winters, Pownall, Halverson and Miller voted in favor of the firing squad bill. Rep. Sam Krone (R-Cody), Baker, Pelkey and Equibel voted against the measure.
Pelkey said he couldn’t predict what the House will do with the bill.
“I just find it ridiculous that we’re flailing for methods to kill people; I’m fundamentally opposed to that,” said Pelkey, an attorney. “Even if we come up with a humane system, the state shouldn’t be granted the power to take someone’s life. I don’t know how many people here feel that way.”