Last year in Wyoming, our legislature captured the nation’s attention as we fell only a handful of votes shy of repealing the death penalty. While this may have come as a surprise to outsiders, it didn’t to anyone familiar with the Cowboy State and our deep commitment to fiscal responsibility and limited government.
This push was sponsored by a dynamic young Republican leader, Rep. Jared Olsen of Cheyenne, and enjoyed tremendous conservative support.
We weren’t an outlier in this, either. All told, conservative lawmakers championed death penalty repeal legislation in 11 states last year.
That’s where my organization comes in. I’m thrilled to have been appointed the Wyoming state coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCATDP), a network of political and social conservatives who are questioning the alignment of capital punishment with conservative principles and values.
We trace our roots back to an organic movement in Montana, where conservative advocates came together to call for an end to the death penalty based on their stringent belief in pro-life values. From there, our movement has grown quickly. We now have 12 state groups under our belt (and counting).
I feel strongly about ending the death penalty because it aligns perfectly with my conservative beliefs in reducing costs to taxpayers, protecting the sanctity of human life and guarding the individual against governmental overreach by eliminating the risk of executing innocent people.
As long as the death penalty exists, there is always the possibility that an innocent person will be executed. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there’s been one exoneration for every 10 executions in this country. Hundreds of DNA exonerations reveal that murder cases often come with many problems: mistaken eyewitnesses, inadequate lawyers, shoddy forensics, unreliable jailhouse informants and coerced false confessions. What’s more, DNA evidence exists in only 10% or less of criminal cases. This system gets it wrong all the time.
Not only does the death penalty risk innocent life, it also fails to make us safer. We know the death penalty is not a deterrent, and it also costs significantly more than non-capital murder cases. Research from the Death Penalty Information Center indicates that almost all people who face the death penalty cannot afford their own legal counsel. This forces the state to appoint lawyers to represent them while also paying for the cost of the prosecution.
Capital cases are much more complicated than non-capital cases, which makes them much more costly. All in all, 70% of the death penalty’s costs come from the trial, and on average these cases cost $1 million more than life in prison without parole. All of this is at the taxpayers’ expense, wasting resources that could contribute to more public safety programs and more crimes being solved.
Far from a system that targets only the “worst of the worst,” we find instead that it is the location of the crime that is the leading determinate in sentencing. Data also shows an inarguable socioeconomic and racial bias in sentencing, with a person’s ability to hire an attorney and the race of the victim largely driving who receives this sentence and who does not.
On top of that, we also hear from many stakeholders involved in this system that instead of offering closure, it actually prolongs trauma. Murder victims’ family members have spoken out about the failures of the death penalty and say that the money wasted on it could be redirected toward improving victims’ services.
Those who work in the system, including members of law enforcement, former jurors, corrections officials and litigators have also contributed their voices to the chorus calling for repeal in recent years, often discussing the harm they experienced after having to participate in capital cases and executions.
For these reasons, and many more, a growing contingent of conservatives are turning against the death penalty and supporting repeal efforts. Along with my organization, I will be working to provide a platform for these voices in Wyoming in the coming months, and hope that you will join me as we push for a state that directs funds toward programs that actually work to deter crime and ensure innocent lives are no longer threatened.
You can find out more and get involved by visiting our website, conservativesconerned.org, or by reaching out to me directly at kyliet @conservativesconcerned.org or 307-256-3564. It’s time we live up to our values and for Wyoming to lead on consistency.
Kylie Taylor is the Wyoming state coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. She was previously an education program specialist at the Wyoming Department of Education. Prior to that, she was a lobbyist, a legal assistant and an intern for U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.