Death penalty opponents last week stepped up their efforts to convince the Montana Legislature to repeal the state’s death penalty statute and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
An organization called Montana Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty issued a call to political conservatives in the Legislature to work on the repeal of the death penalty.
At the same time, the Montana Abolition Coalition for ending the death penalty brought Connecticut speaker and death penalty opponent Walter Everett to speak in several Montana towns, including Choteau.
The conservative political group made its statements following state District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock’s ruling last week that the protocols by which death row inmates are executed in Montana violate both state law and the Montana Constitution, the group said in a news release. The judge has ordered the Legislature and the Department of Corrections to change the rules for executing inmates.
“Conservatives dislike waste and inefficiency. That is why we should cast a critical eye when the state is involved with the business of executing people,” MTCCADAP Advisory Committee member Roy Brown of Billings said in the news release. “When it takes over 20 years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for extra legal fees and court costs, it is obvious that the process if full of waste and inefficiency.”
Brown said defense lawyers’ jobs are to try to delay the process, and with each appeal, the victim’s family has to live through yet another courtroom drama. Yet, he said, “Mistakes do happen and if you speed up the process, the risk of executing an innocent person increases. Millions of dollars are being spent with nothing to show for it.”
House District 17 Rep. Christy Clark of Choteau attended the program in Choteau where the Rev. Walt Everett spoke on “Grief to Forgiveness” and has joined Brown’s organization in supporting a repeal of the death penalty.
In the press release, she said she will oppose attempts to bring the state’s death penalty statute into compliance with Sherlock’s ruling and will instead sponsor a bill to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life without the possibility of parole. “It is time for conservatives to do what they do best and insist that a wasteful, inefficient government program gets off the books,” she said. “Small government and the death penalty don’t go together.”
Brown during his time in the Montana Senate worked with Democrats to bring about the repeal of the death penalty. Democratic Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula, according to the Great Falls Tribune, was one of the leaders of the anti-death penalty movement, sponsoring bills to repeal the death penalty in the 2009 and 2011 sessions. His bills passed the Senate, but became mired in the House Judiciary Committee, which was controlled by Republicans.
One of the conservatives opposed to the death penalty is Steve Dogiakos of Choteau, an outspoken Republican Party advocate and a member of the Montana Abolition Coalition. He and Denver Henderson, with the Montana Association of Churches, spoke at the United Methodist Church last week and encouraged those attending Everett’s program to become politically active and let their representatives and senators know that they support repealing the death penalty.
Everett’s program, held on Sept. 11, drew in a small group of about 16 people, not including the organizers. This event was also sponsored by the Montana Association of Churches.
Henderson, speaking at the conclusion of the program, said, “I think it’s good to be reminded that people have the capacity to change and God certainly has the capacity to work in anyone’s life no matter what they have done.” But, he said, the death penalty cuts short God’s ability to work in people’s lives and that needs to be changed.
Everett, the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Hartford, Conn., began his journey to becoming a death penalty opponent in 1987, when a drugged out, hard luck man, Mike Carlucci, shot and killed Everett’s 24-year-old son, Scott, whose only transgression was that he had locked himself out of his apartment building in Bridgeport, Conn., and was pounding on the exterior door, in hopes that one of the first-floor tenants would hear him and let him in.
Carlucci, strung out on three days of drugs, came out of his apartment with a handgun, listened to Scott’s entreaties and then shot him. Scott died at the scene and Carlucci was arrested almost immediately.
Speaking to Choteau residents, Everett replayed those difficult days and months and recounted a journey that he never expected or wanted to take, but that with “God’s nudging” he is continuing to take.
In the wake of this personal journey, Everett has become an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. His work with the Murder Victims Families for Human Rights movements helped to convince the Connecticut state government earlier this year to repeal the death penalty there, becoming the fifth state nationwide in five years to repeal the death penalty.
Everett opened his program by asking those present to define their perception of the Christian God as one of forgiveness and mercy, not one of vengeance. He took listeners through a short foray into Old and New Testament scripture and ultimately made the position that God does not endorse revenge but instead calls upon his followers to forgive those who trespass against them.
Everett said he was well aware of Christianity’s emphasis on loving your neighbor and your God, but when his son was killed, he did not know how to go on.
He spent the next year trying to cope, falling into depression and losing his ability to reach out to his own parishioners. A support group for families who have lost loved ones to murder did not help. In fact, it highlighted to him that unless he took another path he could be filled with anger and grief for decades.
Everett and his family planned Scott’s funeral and contacted police for updates on the murder. They even talked to witnesses, gathering additional information that they tried, unsuccessfully to give to the police. “I festered in my anger,” Everett recalled.
“How many of you have ever prayed and felt that God was not answering your prayer?” Everett said. “That’s how I felt. Eventually, I began to understand that God was answering me, but in a way I didn’t want to hear. He was telling me to wait.”
Finally, nine months and a week after Scott’s death, the state prosecutor on the case called Everett and told him that a plea bargain had been reached under which Carlucci would plead guilty to the reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter and receive a 10-year sentence with five years suspended.
The plea agreement just angered Everett more as his feelings and his family’s feelings were not taken into account in the sentence. He was invited to make a victim impact statement to the court at sentencing, but the sentence was really already determined.
“Under retributive justice, I didn’t count,” he said. “I was just a bystander. The state was the wronged party. Then I was angry at the prosecutor and at the state for allowing a plea bargain.”
He continued to pray, and all God gave him back was: Wait. Finally, almost a year after Scott was killed, Everett attended Carlucci’s sentencing hearing, and made a 10-minute long speech for the family. “I don’t remember what I said,” he said.
Carlucci was also given the chance to speak, and Everett remembers his words without hesitation: “He said, “I’m sorry I killed Scott Everett. I wish I could bring him back. Obviously I can’t. These must sound like empty words to the Everetts, but what else could I say.”
At the sound of those words, and the remorse he heard in them, Everett said, he began to feel the tentative beginning of healing. “I felt God was nudging me to respond,” he said. And respond he did. On the one-year anniversary of Scott’s death, July 26, 1988, at 8 a.m., he wrote to Carlucci, pouring out his anger, frustration, depression and grief, and, finally, saying, “I forgive you.” He also told Carlucci that, if he wanted, he could write back and Everett would receive his letter.
“As I put the letter in the mail, I felt a little bit of healing just starting,” Everett said. “The healing takes years and years, maybe a lifetime, but it has to begin somewhere.” Everett waited for three weeks for a reply and when none came, he resigned himself to accept that. He went on vacation, and while he was gone, his daughter, picking up his mail, found a reply from Carlucci.
When he got home from vacation, he opened the letter and shared it and his own letter with his daughter. In that letter, Carlucci told Everett that after reading his letter, he slept well for the first time since the murder.
Thus began a correspondence through which Everett came to meet Carlucci in prison and became his mentor, eventually even testifying to the parole board for Carlucci to earn an early release.
Everett learned that Carlucci had a terrible upbringing. The youngest of four children, his mother left when he was 2. His grandmother came to take care of the kids and his dad worked two full-time jobs. After his grandmother died when he was 10, Mike lived nearly without adult supervision from the time school ended until he went to bed.
He had been arrested 43 times before he killed Scott Everett and was struggling with drug and alcohol addictions.
Everett said that when Carlucci was released from prison, he went to work for a trucking firm in Connecticut, rising through the ranks, to the level of a supervisor over a crew of 75 people.
“Mike is active in AA and NA. He goes regularly and tells other people of his story,” Everett said. Carlucci is a sponsor in a 12-step program, and he speaks at churches and universities, and to prison inmates. Sometimes he and Everett speak together. “Mike is a new person today because of what God has done in his life,” the pastor said.
“I’m here to tell you that God has changed another person as well. If I hadn’t followed God’s directions, I would be dead, spiritually, emotionally and physically. For that I give thanks to God every day.”