Criminal Justice expert on death penalty abolition 50 years ago in ND
FARGO, N.D. (KVRR) — It’s been fifty years since the North Dakota legislature banned capital punishment for all crimes.
“It is possible that they would decide to implement it again if it seems like the political climate would be right for it. A lot of people who are already sentenced to death are not executed for many, many years. The average time on death row right now is about eighteen to nineteen years. A lot can happen in the meantime,” says Amy Stichman, an associate professor of criminal justice at NDSU.
North Dakota has carried out eight executions.
The last one happened in 1905, when John Rooney was charged and convicted of murder for shooting and killing a farmer on the west side of Fargo.
A decade later, the state legislature abolished the death penalty except in cases of treason or murder by a prison inmate.
No one was executed during that time frame.
In 1973, the last remnants of capital punishment was eliminated in North Dakota.
Fifty years later, federal prosecutors withdrew Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. ‘s death penalty after he was convicted for kidnapping and murdering UND student, Dru Sjodin, in 2003.
He ended up on death row for years because his crimes took place across two states, leaving it up to federal authorities.
“There was the crossing of state lines that then turned it into a federal case. Neither North Dakota nor Minnesota have the death penalty but the federal government does. As a result of that, they were able to prosecute him under the death penalty statute. Even when states do not have the death penalty it is possible for people who commit crimes in those states to be sentenced to death if it is also a federal crime which often involves crossing state lines,” Stichman says.
She says there are many resources states would use including creating death chambers.
Many states did away with the idea of it because of expenses.
“For many states, the bigger reason why they started abolishing it is cost. Death penalty cases cost on average two to three times more than cases where it’s life in prison. So, many states thought, ‘we can’t afford this, anymore,’ and they abolished the death penalty to save money,” said Stichman.
She says it is possible for states to reinstate the death penalty if society’s viewpoint on the topic changes.