HELENA – The state Senate is again endorsing a plan to end the death penalty in favor of life in prison with no parole, giving initial support to the plan Monday after two hours of lively debate.
The chamber supported Senate Bill 236 on a 27-23 vote, with a final vote expected Tuesday. It is the second session in a row the Senate has supported an end to the death penalty.
In 2007 it cleared the Senate but failed in the House.
Supporters of the ban said the risk of wrongly killing an innocent person is just too great. They also argued it is more expensive to fight death penalty legal appeals than it is to imprison someone for life, and said it would be better to lock up killers for life without the possibility of parole.
Opponents argue the death penalty is a just and necessary punishment and serves as a deterrent to murder.
Most Republicans opposed the change, while most Democrats supported it. However, there were a fair number of crossover votes.
Republican Sen. Roy Brown, of Billings, argued his anti-abortion viewpoints in favor of protecting life would be at odds with support of the death penalty. Brown said it took a lot of soul-searching to reach that conclusion.
He said he understands the argument from colleagues – and his wife – that opposing abortion protects innocent life while the death penalty takes the life of a guilty person.
“That is pretty simple, pretty concise and easy to understand – but is it always? Is it always a guilty life?” Brown said. “Yes, mistakes do happen.”
If the measure clears the Senate in the final vote, it will go to a House divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
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