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In Wyoming, some opposition to death penalty coming from families of victims

Posted at 8:11 AM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 10:11:02-05

Opponents of the death penalty are hoping that Wyoming could repeal capital punishment this legislative session after coming just a few votes short in 2019.

Several groups are involved in the effort to repeal, and some of the opposition to capital punishment is coming from those who have been most hurt by violence.

“I have consistently argued against it for the last 30 years period I feel like it is one way that I can honor the life of my daughter—to just speak up for life in general,” says Su Depree, whose 24-year-old daughter was shot to death 30 years ago in Great Falls, Montana, while Su was pastoring a church in Wyoming.

She and Chrystal Martin recently headlined an online event hosted by a group called Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty in Wyoming. It’s one of several groups, including the ACLU and different churches, involved in the campaign to end the death penalty in the state.

They share a common bond of tragedy.

Martin was just eight years old when her mother was abducted from a Green River convenience store in 1993, raped, and strangled. Her body later found buried in a snowbank. Years later, Martin would also lose a husband to homicide.

She later began studying criminal justice and learned about a restorative justice program in Wyoming that allows victim’s families to meet an offender in hopes of bringing about healing.

It would bring her face to face with the man who killed her mother.

“You know at first it was really scary walking into the prison. I will tell you that. The gates closing behind me making me jolt not knowing what to expect, but then when I got in there it was empowering. It was like I get to lead the conversation; I get to have the questions answered that I have been waiting so long to have answered,” said Martin.

She describes the meeting as a healing experience and says she forgave the man who took her mother’s life.

“A lot of people do feel eye for an eye, but for me, I feel there’s no justification in taking another person’s life—no matter the harms that they cause you,” Martin said.

Wyoming has only executed one inmate since capital punishment was reinstated, and that was in 1992. There’s no one awaiting execution.

But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for a possible return to death row for Dale Wayne Eaton by declining to hear his appeal.

Eaton, now 75, could be re-sentenced to death for the horrific 1988 kidnap, rape, and murder of 18-year old Lisa Kimmel, who had been driving home to visit her parents in Billings from Denver.

Eaton was linked to Kimmel’s murder in 2003, and her car was found buried on his property.

The time and costs involved in a death penalty case are two of the reasons why opponents argue against capital punishment. They also doubt whether it is effective deterrent.

“It hasn’t been proven to be a deterrent. I’ve studied the issue a lot and the statistics do not bear out a deterrence on it,” said Depree, who has been active in opposing the death penalty in both Wyoming and Montana.

The cost of a death penalty also got the attention of the state’s Republican Gov. Mark Gordon, who said last summer that Wyoming may implement a moratorium on the death penalty to save money.

Wyoming Republican Rep. Jared Olson, who sponsored the death penalty repeal bill in 2019 that fell just a few votes short in the Senate, says that he expects a new repeal bill to be introduced in the coming week.

Olson said that he believes there is momentum growing for ending the death penalty not just in Wyoming, but across the country.