Utah conservatives among those fighting to end capital punishment

Darcy Van Orden speaks at an online conference hosted by Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. (Zoom)

Conservative leaders and politicians from across the country gathered in an online conference on Monday, Oct. 28, to call for an end to the death penalty.

Conference participants discussed actions their states have taken against capital punishment and ways in which the death penalty violates their conservative values.

Among the conference speakers was Darcy Van Orden, founder and executive director of the Utah Justice Coalition. Van Orden cited her Christian faith and pro-life principles as the cause of her discomfort with capital punishment.

“I don’t want government to play God,” Van Orden said. “This is not what we should be doing here in Utah. This should not represent us as a people.”

The Utah Legislature has made multiple attempts to end capital punishment. SB 189, which would have repealed the death penalty in Utah, failed to pass on the last day of the 2016 legislative session. HB 379 met a similar end in 2018.

Van Orden said she is hopeful that freshmen legislators in Utah will unite against the death penalty and repeal the law in the coming year as the movement is largely bipartisan.

Van Orden and other conference participants also noted the high costs of capital punishment as a reason to repeal the practice. Utah spent $40 million on death penalty eligible cases over the last 20 years, only to add two people to death row, according to Van Orden and a 2017 report from the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

“As a fiscally conservative state, how could Utah waste those funds when we could be pouring that money into helping victims, pouring that money into our schools?” Van Orden asked. “We could actually be pouring it into programs that would keep Utahns safe.”

Wyoming state Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, revealed similar trends occurring in his state during the conference.

“The cost that we appropriate annually is just over $1 million even though we haven’t had an execution in decades,” he said. “The cost is real to Wyoming.”

Olsen also shared Van Orden’s view that to support the continuance of the death penalty would be inconsistent with the pro-life values he and other conservatives champion.

According to Ohio State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, conservative Americans usually want to keep government involvement in personal matters to a minimum.

“We don’t trust government to run our healthcare,” he said. “I don’t know why we would trust the government to put us to death.”

The conference speakers, along with 246 other politically active conservatives and Republican party members and politicians, signed their names to a Statement of Support to End the Death Penalty.

“We have come to the conclusion that the death penalty does not work and can’t be made to work, not in spite of our conservative principles but because of them,” the statement reads. “We call on our fellow conservatives to reexamine the death penalty and demonstrate the leadership needed to end this failed policy.”

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