Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Montana’s Death Penalty, Part 2

The cruel and unusual punishment argument again surfaced in 2006 with the impending execution of David Thomas Dawson. Dawson kidnapped and killed Monica and David Rodstein along with their eleven-year-old son Andrew in a Billings motel room in 1986; police rescued their fifteen-year-old daughter Amy who survived. Dawson fought his conviction for years, but gave up the fight in 2004 to become a willing participant in carrying out his death sentence. A month before Dawson’s scheduled execution, the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana led a coalition arguing that the state’s method of administering lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment. The law stipulates that the executioner need not be a physician, registered nurse, or licensed practical nurse but only someone selected by the warden and trained to administer a lethal dose. The dissenting groups claimed that the lethal substance, if improperly administered, could cause excruciating pain and thus violate the U.S. and Montana Constitutions. The Montana attorney general decided, however, that there was no indication that lethal injection had caused pain and that the groups had nothing personally at stake. They thus had no reason to be involved. Dawson wanted the execution to go forward and not to do so would infringe upon his constitutional rights. The courts had no right to infringe on Dawson’s rights in the attempt to uphold the concerns of others. Dawson was executed by lethal injection on August 11, 2006.

The Ryegate Gallows, on display at the Old Prison Museum at Deer Lodge, was used in one of Montana's last hangings in 1939. Its thirteen steps leading up to the platform are chilling reminders of frontier justice. Photo by J. M. Cooper
Montana has legally executed seventy-five individuals since Montana Territory carried out its first legal hanging in 1875. There are currently two men on Montana’s symbolic “death row.”  The Montana legislature considered abolishment of the death penalty in 2007, with the passage of a repeal bill in the Montana Senate, but the legislation died in State House committee by a single vote.


  1. What do the 1939 Gallows have to do with the injection in 2006?