Natrona County GOP House Candidates Divided on Death Penalty
Some Natrona County Republican candidates for the Wyoming House sharply disagreed whether the state should repeal the death penalty during a forum held at Washington Park on Monday.
The GOP candidates seeking their party's nomination in the Aug. 18 primary cited their faith, the state's finances and one very personal story at the forum sponsored by the Natrona County Republican Women.
Rep. Pat Sweeney of House District 58 in north Casper north and east to the Johnson and Converse county lines owned the Parkway Plaza in 2004 when he hosted the family of Lisa Marie Kimmel during the trial of Dale Eaton, who brutally murdered her in 1988.
Eaton was sentenced to death.
A federal court later upheld the conviction but overturned the death penalty. After more appeals the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case in May, and the Natrona County District Attorney's Office is again asking the Natrona County District Court to sentence him to death.
Sweeney said he was opposed, "vehemently opposed," to repealing the death penalty, of which Gov. Mark Gordon suggested a moratorium on Monday because of the cost to the state.
"My view is not swayed," Sweeney said.
Attempts to repeal the death penalty failed in the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions.
Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, HD37 in south-central Casper, was one of 40 sponsors of the bipartisan House Bill 166 in the 2020 session. Primary sponsor Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said the government can't be trusted because of the number of wrong death sentences, and the state has spent about $1 million a year on the death penalty program.
Harshman told the crowd gathered on the lawn in front of the Washington Park bandshell that the death penalty doesn't make fiscal sense, and that as one who identifies as "pro-life," that means opposing capital punishment.
Gregory Flesvig is challenging Harshman in HD37 disagreed, saying "we need to think of the victims."
Kevin O'Hearn, who is running for House District 59 in Casper and Mills, said he, too, is pro-life and that means from conception to natural death. Sentencing someone to death will not help a victim's family, either, he said.
Fellow HD59 candidate Leah Juarez said the death penalty is a financial drain on the state.
But HD59 candidate David Carpenter said the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. It's rarely used, but it should be a tool available to prosecutors, he added.
Incumbent Rep. Tom Walters of House District 38 in the western and southern third of Natrona County likewise said he voted against HB166 because the death penalty allows prosecutors an option in a criminal case.
HD38 challenger Michael Pedry said he was against the repeal because part of love is mercy and part of love is justice, and justice not only on a personal level but on a societal level as well.
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