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February 16, 2019

WWJD?: Interesting comments as Wyoming senate rejects effort to repeal the state's dormant death penalty

HutchingsLS05I mentioned in this post a few weeks ago that the Wyoming House of Representatives had voted to repeal the state's death penalty.  This past week the legislative repeal effort died, as reported in this local article headlined "Wyoming Senate defeats death penalty repeal bill."  And a notable quote from a particular senator concerning her reasons for voting against repeal has garnered some extra attention.  Here are some particulars:

The Wyoming Senate defeated a bill Thursday that would have repealed the state’s death penalty, ending the most successful legislative attempt to do away with capital punishment in recent memory. Having passed the House by a safe margin, the bill was swiftly voted down by the Wyoming Senate on its first reading. The final vote was 12-18.

“The vote was different than I expected to see from talking with people beforehand,” said the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Brian Boner, R-Converse. “There’s a lot of different factors and, at the end of the day, everyone has to make their best determination based on the information they have.”

The death penalty repeal had passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday by a unanimous vote. Proponents of the bill argued that it would save the state money and create a more humane justice system, an argument that had gained substantial traffic in the House of Representatives....

In the Senate — which has trended more conservative than the House this session — the bill had garnered several unlikely allies. Sen. Bill Landen, a reluctant sponsor of the bill, said that after years of budget cuts and eliminating line item after line item, he could no longer go home and feel good explaining the myriad cuts he’s made to the state budget while defending annual expenses like the death penalty, which costs the state roughly $1 million a year. “Regardless of my personal thoughts — my religion doesn’t believe in the right to kill people — that’s not enough for me,” he said.

Opponents of the bill, meanwhile, argued retaining the death penalty would allow the justice system to offer closure to victims of the most heinous crimes, and could be used as a tool to coerce confessions from the state’s worst perpetrators....

Several senators had other reasons for voting against the bill.  Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, said that while the death penalty could be used as an effective tool, it was also a means to keep the state’s justice system from turning into the type seen in other states. He then noted that states like California — in some cases — have allowed inmates to undergo gender reassignment surgery. “I think we’re becoming a lot like other states, and we have something to defend,” he said.  California, however, has not repealed the death penalty.

Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, argued that without the death penalty, Jesus Christ would not have been able to die to absolve the sins of mankind, and therefore capital punishment should be maintained. “The greatest man who ever lived died via the death penalty for you and me,” she said. “I’m grateful to him for our future hope because of this. Governments were instituted to execute justice. If it wasn’t for Jesus dying via the death penalty, we would all have no hope.”

Wyoming has not executed a prisoner since 1992. According to Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert, the average death row inmate costs the agency 30 percent more to incarcerate than a general population prisoner, with an average stay of 17 years.

I find it more than a bit amusing that Senator Bouchard seemed to think that voting to keep an effectively dormant costly capital punishment system on the books in Wyoming would help keep the state from becoming more like California, where voters have repeatedly voted to keep an effectively dormant costly capital punishment system on the books.  But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the comment generating the most attention has been Senator Hutchings' suggestion that we can thank (and should preserve) the death penalty for giving us all hope through Jesus Christ.

I am disinclined to make too many jokes about these comments at the risk of being sacrilegious, but I cannot help imagining a new ad campaign for capital punishment: "The death penalty: hope for you and me."  I also cannot help but note that Senator Hutchings has recently garnered negative attention from some other statements on a distinct issue.

February 16, 2019 at 01:58 PM | Permalink

Comments

Ah, nothing like the scent of heresy to freshen up the day. The problem is that Senator Hutchings' logic is foreclosed by the text of the Bible itself in Hebrews 10:10. "And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

One of the contrasts that the early Christians wanted to make with the Jews was on the spiritual efficacy of sacrifice (see Moses and his son). So to claim that Jesus's sacrifice can justify more sacrifice is to claim that his death on the cross was insufficient, It is to claim that his death was merely an example. But if it is an example then it was not "once for all".

Note that this does not mean that Christian's cannot argue in favor of the DP. They can. It simply means that the Bible forecloses the particular justification Senator Hutchings advances.

Posted by: Daniel | Feb 16, 2019 3:45:38 PM

And there is also nothing like a typo to get me into trouble...I obviously meant Abraham, not Moses.

Posted by: Daniel | Feb 16, 2019 3:48:08 PM

Daniel & Doug:

I listened to Hutchings recorded testimony.

Hutchings never stated nor implied what the reporter wrote, which was this.

"Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, argued that without the death penalty, Jesus Christ would not have been able to die to absolve the sins of mankind, and therefore capital punishment should be maintained."

That was the ridiculous misinterpretation by the reporter, who left this out:

She discussed some of the worst mass shootings as deserving of the death penalty, which was left out of every story I have seen.

What Hutchings stated was what was in quotes, which is:

“The greatest man who ever lived died via the death penalty for you and me,” she said. “I’m grateful to him for our future hope because of this. Governments were instituted to execute justice. If it wasn’t for Jesus dying via the death penalty, we would all have no hope.”

Well known, accepted Christian teachings for 2000 years.

She was stating that the death penalty should be retained for heinous murders and that it was pretty obvious God accepted the death penalty, "a well known fact, long before the crucifixion" that last quote being my comment.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Feb 17, 2019 7:36:03 AM

Thanks, Dudley, though do you think it fair to say, based on Senator Hutchings last sentence, that she is suggesting society should be grateful for the death penalty because it serves as the means for Jesus's death and thus the basis for (Christian) hope?

In the end, what she said and what she meant is a distraction in multiple ways: (1) the vote against repeal was large enough that her particular opinion and advocacy likely did not matter much, and (2) the state of Wyoming has not had an execution in more than a quarter century, so it is mostly of only symbolic significance for the state to have the punishment on the books.

Indeed, the reality of an only symbolic capital punishment system in Wyoming almost makes reference to the symbolisms of religion fitting in this context.

Posted by: Doug B | Feb 17, 2019 11:46:11 AM

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