An important bipartisan federal criminal justice reform legislation, called the First Step Act (S.3649) currently awaits a vote in the U.S.
The gold rush and frontier society had a significant impact on Montana’s history with the death penalty, as the U.S. government didn’t have the personnel to control such a vast area and Montana’s early mining camps were outside the bounds of any organized law. Trials for those accused of crimes were often for show, and the preferred method of execution was hanging. Between December 1863 and January 1864, 25 people were hanged in Montana by vigilante gangs.
After the 1972 US Supreme Court decision nullifying the death penalty laws of many states, including Montana’s, the state reinstated the penalty in 1974. All executions, vigilante and state-sanctioned, were conducted by hanging until 1995. So far, Montana has executed 74 persons. Until the 1940s, executions were handled by the counties. The state’s last hanging in Montana was in 1943, and it was also the state’s last execution for 52 years until 1995. One other person has been executed since 1995, and there are currently two persons on death row.
Today, lethal injection is the only death sentence method allowed in the state. In both 2007 and 2009, the Montana Senate passed an abolition bill to end the use of the death penalty, but both were defeated in the state House Judiciary committee and, in 2009, the loss was by one vote.
For more information and ways to get involved, contact your state's organizations:
Called by the Gospel of Jesus to be a people of justice and peace, the Montana Catholic Conference provides a forum through which the bishops of the Catholic dioceses of Great Falls-Billings and Helena act mutually and cooperatively to serve the common good by standing with the vulnerable and disenfranchised and by acting as a moral voice in the legislative climate.
Bringing an end to the death penalty is no longer an issue that appeals only to Democrats. Many Republicans in Montana and across the country are waking up to the fact that our death penalty system is irreparably broken and that life without parole is a much better alternative.
The Montana Abolition Coalition is an umbrella group of faith and civil and human rights organizations and individuals whose sole purpose is to support abolition of Montana’s death penalty.