CASPER — Lawmakers voted to defeat a bill to repeal Wyoming’s death penalty on Thursday evening, following a passionate debate on the Senate floor.
Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, sponsored Senate File 150 primarily on fiscal grounds. Maintaining the option to sentence convicted defendants to death costs the state about $750,000 annually.
But the state has not executed a person for nearly three decades. No individuals currently sit on death row in Wyoming, and the state has conducted only a single execution in the past 40 years.
“Once again, let’s focus on the facts not feelings,” Boner told his colleagues. “The fact is once again, this does not do a service to the victims’ families ... Let’s go ahead and repeal it.”
Other supporters of the repeal bill called for eliminating the death penalty in the name of criminal justice reform. Nationally, 185 people who received wrongful convictions have been exonerated from death row since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
“I’d be hard pressed to believe at this point that someone along the way wasn’t convicted, executed and innocent,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said in support of the bill.
Wyoming is one of 28 states that still allow the death penalty.
In 2019, a similar repeal bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, but failed to garner enough support in the full Senate. It failed by a 12-18 vote.
Opponents of the repeal bill said it was important to have the option to sentence individuals convicted of the most heinous of crimes.
“It’s holding people accountable,” Sen. Tara Nethercott, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, adding, “Wyoming uses it judiciously, and I’m proud of our history.”
Proponents of ending the death penalty lamented lawmakers’ decision on Thursday.
“Last week, both chambers passed budget legislation that will cut the public defender’s office death penalty representation,” Kylie Taylor, state coordinator of Wyoming Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a statement. “Today’s vote to keep the death penalty, paired with that budget, risks a constitutional crisis. We have the death penalty — a failed government program that risks innocent lives — but no means to provide the right to an adequate defense, as defined by our Constitution. Many conservative lawmakers understand that, and we know it is only a matter of time before they revisit this broken policy and end Wyoming’s death penalty once and for all.”
The final vote on the bill was 11-19.