View Full Version : Article: Ruling Will Not Affect Montana DR inmates

09-03-2003, 11:53 AM
AG: Ruling will not affect Montana

By BOB ANEZ - Associated Press Writer - 09/03/03

HELENA — A federal appeals court ruling that could overturn scores of death sentences in some western states should have no effect on Montana's five death-row inmates, Attorney General Mike McGrath said.

He said Tuesday the Justice Department will argue that specific circumstances in each of the Montana cases insulate them from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

The ruling said a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that juries, not judges, must decide whether a crime included conditions warranting a death sentence must be applied to all inmates already facing execution.

McGrath said Tuesday's decision on retroactive application of the 2002 ruling is almost certain to be appealed to the nation's high court, because the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in Florida came to the opposite conclusion in July.

He said Montana, where five men are on death row, will join in any appeal.

Michael Donahoe, a federal public defender with a client among those condemned inmates, called the 9th Circuit's decision groundbreaking and predicted it will spark a host of death-row appeals. ‘‘It's going to apply and everybody's going to have a right to argue it,'' he said.

Tuesday's decision applies to only Arizona, Idaho and Montana, the states under the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction that have allowed judges to determine if a crime involved circumstances allowing for the death penalty. Montana changed its law earlier this year to give that duty to juries, but a question remained about the status of existing death sentences.

‘‘We're assuming that our sentences are valid at this point,'' McGrath said.

In Montana, conditions of a murder that can bring a death sentence include killings behind bars, during a kidnapping, as a result of an ambush or with multiple victims.

Assistant Attorney General Pamela Collins, who handles many death-penalty cases for the state, said the issue of juries versus judges cannot apply to Ronald Smith, who pleaded guilty to killing two Browning men in 1982. No jury was involved in that case, she noted.

Collins said David Dawson, convicted of kidnapping and killing three members of a Billings family in 1986, would not be affected because the jury found him guilty of the aggravating condition necessary for the death penalty: abduction of his victims.

She said the other three men on death row — murderers William Gollehon, Rodney Sattler and Daniel Johnson — were ordered executed based on the fact that they previously had been convicted of murder. That was a matter of record and not an issue the jury could decide, Collins explained.

Gollehon was sentenced to die for helping beat a fellow state prison inmate to death in 1990. Sattler murdered another prisoner in the Lake County Jail in 1995 and Johnson killed an inmate while at the prison the same year.

10-29-2003, 01:56 PM
it was very sad i was in montana at time and everyone congradulated all the guys on death row and mine was so happy then 2 days later he finds out it is not true very hard for him. so i do hope they can somehow change it for all the guys somehow but does not look good ty for posting all this info as now i understand it more peace and love mary

10-29-2003, 01:59 PM
I'm so sorry, Mary! When I heard and posted this article I thought of you and prayed for you and your guy and all on Death Row there in Montana. Words can't say how sorry I am.