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Letter: Time for the ND Legislature to reconsider death penalty?

Mike McFeely’s column in Sunday’s editions of The Forum, “Panic after Paris, silence after Colorado Springs,” (Nov. 29) got me to thinking.

The column concerned the worldwide panic that took place following the Paris terrorist massacres, and the deafening silence following the shootings at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.

I would like to take a different direction. Headlines like these tend to fuel speculation about reinstating capital punishment in North Dakota. Outside of the Dru Sjodin case (which became a federal matter since Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. committed his crimes across state lines), there really haven’t been any noteworthy particularly heinous, cruel or vile homicides in North Dakota that would rise to the level of being a potential death penalty case in other states that have capital punishment on the books.

North Dakota has not carried out a judicially ordered execution since the hanging of murderer John Rooney in 1905. North Dakota had a death penalty until the U.S. Supreme Court in the Furman v. Georgia case struck down the death penalty across the country as being unconstitutional in 1972.

Following the court’s ruling, the 1973 Legislature repealed the vestiges of the death penalty in North Dakota: a law under which no one had been sentenced to death. There have been efforts in subsequent legislative sessions to reinstate capital punishment and all have failed.

Meanwhile, our neighboring state of South Dakota has carried out three executions since 2007, with the last one prior to that taking place in 1947. Six decades passed between 1947 and 2007. Two states that share a common border, and perhaps some common bonds since the Dakota Territory was split and North Dakota and South Dakota were born in 1889 – one has a death penalty and one does not.

Many would argue that if the death penalty were ever reinstated in North Dakota, it would take many decades for the first execution to occur, if it ever did occur. Also, it would cost the state millions of dollars and countless hours of manpower to defend the seemingly endless number of appeals to state and federal courts that death row inmates and their attorneys often avail themselves of, in order to avoid or at least delay the inevitable.

Certainly, money is a considering factor – it always is. However, with the uptick in violent crimes and homicides that we have seen over the past many years in our part of the country, perhaps the time has come for North Dakota to dust off the subject of the death penalty.

I’m not necessarily in support of reinstating capital punishment, but perhaps the time has come for state lawmakers to have this discussion once again when the 2017 legislative session convenes.

Olson, Fargo, is a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion pages. Email rickolson@cableone.net

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