By Nicholas Gardner
SACRAMENTO—Death Penalty Focus, an anti-death penalty organization based in Sacramento, convened Wednesday over Zoom as part of their weekly webinar series on the current state of the death penalty—they feel most conservatives are wrong in supporting state killing.
The discussion centered around the conservative view on abolishing the death penalty, with panelists Hannah Cox, National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, and Jared Olsen, a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives, joining as guests.
Cox and Olsen are part of a growing number of ideological conservatives seeking to end capital punishment.
Both panelists argued that the death penalty—which has historically garnered strong support among conservatives—actually goes against core conservative values, including limited government, the sanctity of human life, and Christian moral beliefs.
According to Cox and Olsen, many conservatives are inconsistent in their support of these ideals.
Olsen noted the first plank of the Republican Party platform in Wyoming asserts the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death—a value that many Christians derive from the Bible.
This value, Olsen said, is particularly salient when discussing abortion; however, it is less often applied to the issue of capital punishment. Olsen believes that if a conservative is to support life prior to birth, they must also do so after, regardless of the decisions an individual has made.
Cox, who identifies as a Libertarian, highlighted a similar inconsistency on the issue of limited government, charging, “Everyone is OK with big government as long as it’s big government they like.”
According to Cox, the biggest role a government can have is the ability to execute their own citizens.
Additionally, capital punishment requires many taxpayer funded resources—which she believes conservatives should be looking to limit.
As both an attorney and a Representative in Wyoming, Olsen was well aware of these costs. He explained how the instant a prosecutor suggests pursuing capital punishment, a list of requirements must be met.
One requirement calls for two attorneys on the case, and one of those attorneys must be certified to pursue the death penalty. In Wyoming, only three attorneys of that kind exist. For this reason, 70 percent of the cost of pursuing the death penalty is legal; which, in his eyes, a conservative should recognize as an unnecessary burden on taxpayers.
And at the end of this lengthy process, Olsen said, many families are ready to forgive.
The expensive nature of pursuing the death penalty was also of concern to Olsen for socioeconomic reasons.
In Wyoming, a state rich in minerals, wealth is oftentimes determined by the distribution of natural resources. Counties with abundant reserves of these resources tend to be wealthier, and, as he points out, more likely to pursue the death penalty. In the words of Olsen, “where you are born should not determine whether or not you’re put into a system that determines life or death.”
Cox and Olsen both believe that conservatives must educate themselves in order to recognize that the death penalty goes against their core values.
Both panelists described the pro-death penalty position as a “default position” among many conservatives, who view capital punishment as an effective means of deterring crime and delivering justice to the family members of a victim.
But the panelists would urge these people to consider the actual facts.
Olsen recalled a recent incident with an older man running for mayor in Cheyenne, who had been a staunch supporter of the death penalty his entire life. Constant coverage of Olsen’s advocacy in the news led the man to challenge his beliefs for the first time, and he was convinced almost immediately.
As Cox puts it, “You got to get in front of people with the facts.”
When asked about the future of the death penalty, both panelists appeared optimistic but recognized that the elimination of capital punishment is still far on the horizon.
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9