Local News

House Members Choosing Sides In Execution Moratorium Debate

Posted June 3, 2004

— When Daryl Hunt and Alan Gell were released from prison, they brought new energy to the push for a two-year moratorium on executions.

Both men were wrongly convicted of murder, and both have been cleared of charges and freed from prison in the last six months. Gell was on death row.

Members of the House who support a moratorium feel they may now have the votes they need.

"Now, we feel with the Gell case, with the Hunt case, we feel we're closer," Rep. Paul Leubke said. "We feel we're very, very close."

That is not what the House co-speakers planned to hear. They agreed before the session started not to bring the issue to a vote, because it is too controversial. Now, sponsors of the bill say some lawmakers on the fence are choosing sides.

After initially opposing the idea, Rep. Joanne Bowie now says she is leaning toward supporting it.

"I just don't know. I'm struggling with it now. I truly am," she said. "I would be unable to sleep at night if I felt that because of what I did, someone died. Or maybe what I didn't do -- that someone died because of my actions."

Despite the shift in momentum, this is not an easy fight. Opponents in the House are vowing to stand firmly against it.

"I'm going to fight it. I'm going to fight it on behalf of victims in this state," Rep. Rick Eddins said.

Opponents fear a moratorium is just a smoke screen to do away with the death penalty altogether. Supporters disagree, saying a moratorium would provide time to fix the type of flaws that send innocent people to death row.

"Let there be a vote and let's test it out," Leubke said.

Bill sponsors in the House say they will wait until the budget is passed before attempting to bring the issue to the floor for a vote.

The Senate already passed the measure.

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