HELENA — The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill 7-5 on Thursday to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole.
The weight of the decision was clear in Sen. Greg Hinkle’s voice as he told fellow lawmakers he would vote to put the bill on the floor.
I probably struggled with this issue more than anyone,” said the Republican from Thompson Falls.
Hinkle said while he absolutely believes heinous criminals need to be severely punished, a tour of death row made him think maybe life in prison was a far greater penalty than death.
“I would never go there alive,” he said, “it wouldn’t happen. That’s a horrible, horrible place.”
Hinkle added the issue is bigger than the committee and needed to go before the Senate. But he doesn’t know how he will once it gets there.
Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, also voted for abolition along with the Democratic members of the committee.
Jennifer Kirby with the Montana Abolition Coalition said she wasn’t sure how the bill, by Sen. David Wanzenried, D-Missoula, would fare, but agreed with Hinkle’s sentiments that it should go before the body as a whole.
A similar bill by Wanzenried made it to the floor during the 2009 session on the exact same vote. It passed the Senate 27-23, but was tabled in the House.
(Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at email@example.com,)