Death Penalty

The inherent risk of killing the innocent:

Since 1973, more than 185 people who have been sentenced to death have been exonerated. If they were not exonerated and their death sentences were imposed, our country would have killed 185 innocent people. As long as the death penalty exists, we run the risk of killing the innocent. 

Gary Radi

Newspaper covers from Radi case
(Photos from The Billings Gazette on

Gary Radi, Bernard James Fitzpatrick, Travis Holliday, Paul Bad Horse Jr., and Edwin Bushman were accused of the April 5, 1975 kidnapping, robbery, and murder of 18-year-old Monte Dyckman in Hardin, Montana. Dyckman was a clerk at Safeway. The State argued that the five men, over beers and a game of pool, devised a plan to rob the Safeway employee who made the nightly deposit in Hardin.

Fitzpatrick and Radi went in one car; Bushman, Bad Horse Jr., and Holliday went in another. The Radi car followed the first employee to depart the Safeway at closing; this person was the store manager who drove directly home. Once they noticed he would not be the employee making the deposit that night, they drove to the bank as planned to meet the other car. 

The Bushman car followed the second and last employee to depart the store at closing; this was the Dyckman. The Bushman car followed him to the post office and then to the bank where the Radi car was waiting. The Bushman car left, and this is when the State argued that the Radi car confronted Dyckman and took him to an area off the interstate known as the Toluca Interchange. 

Bushman testified for the State in exchange for immunity. He said that his car got back to Radi’s house at around 2:30 a.m. and that Radi arrived on his own around the same time. They all asked Radi what happened. According to Bushman’s testimony, Radi said that he and Fitzpatrick took the $200 Dyckman was depositing and that Fitzpatrick killed Dyckman. Bushman testified that Radi said, “Fritz didn’t have to shoot the kid. Boom, boom, he shot his head off.” Dyckman’s body was found at the Toluca Interchange early in the morning on April 6 with two gunshot wounds to the head.

Fitzpatrick, Radi, Holliday, and Bad Horse Jr. were tried together based on Bushman’s testimony. Holliday and Bad Horse Jr. were convicted of robbery and sentenced to 40 years each. Fitzpatrick and Radi were convicted of kidnapping, robbery, and murder, and they both received the death penalty. In delivering his sentence, District Judge Nat Allen told Radi, “I sentence you to hang by the neck until dead.” The Billings Gazette article covering the sentencing hearing reads, “Radi, wearing a white suit, chains, and a poker face, said nothing.” 

Two years later, all four men were granted new trials for three reasons: (1) the jury was improperly selected; (2) Judge Allen did not instruct the jury when it sought clarification about the admissibility of the hearsay evidence about who shot Dyckman; and (3) because all four men were jointly tried, some of them were possibly prejudiced by testimony about the others. 

In Radi’s new trial, evidence of an alibi was presented. Radi’s partner, 22-year-old Barbara Hanson, testified that they were together at the Wong Village restaurant in Billings on the night of the murder. Radi was ultimately acquitted.

The death penalty is racially biased:

Since 1973, 185 innocent people have been exonerated from death row; innocent Black people account for more than half of those. Black defendants are more vulnerable to capital prosecutions for many reasons including the long history of over-policing Black communities and falsely implicating Black people in crimes.

“The death penalty is inextricably linked to our history of slavery, of lynching, and Jim Crow segregation, and we wanted to put what is happening today in its appropriate context,” Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham told the Associated Press. “What the data tells us and what history tells us is that they’re all part of the same phenomenon.”

Walter McMillian (left, and Bryan Stevenson (right).
Walter McMillian, left, and Bryan Stevenson, right (Photo from the Equal Justice Initiative)

Walter McMillian

In 1986, an 18-year-old White woman named Ronda Morrison was murdered at Jackson Cleaners in Monroeville, Alabama. With no leads for six months, the police focused their attention on Walter McMillian. McMillian, a 45-year-old self-employed logger, had no criminal history. The Monroeville police were only aware of him because he was a Black man who had an affair with a White woman.

A White man named Ralph Myers who was accused of crimes in another county was coerced by police to falsely accuse McMillian. Among their coercive tactics was putting Myers, a burn victim, in the cell on death row closest to the execution room where he heard a man get electrocuted. Myers refused to implicate McMillian prior to this experience, but after listening to someone’s execution and being told that he would be put on death row himself if he did not cooperate, Myers told the police whatever they wanted to hear.

Monroe County Sheriff Tom Tate arranged for McMillian to await his trial for 15 months on death row. Monroe County inspired Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” about a Black man falsely accused of raping a White woman.

Despite having an alibi that was corroborated by numerous friends and family, the nearly all-White jury convicted McMillian on Myers’ false testimony, and he was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent six more years on death row before he was freed by the Equal Justice Initiative.

Bryan Stevenson took McMillian’s case when he first moved to Alabama to begin EJI. Stevenson found evidence of Myers’ first interview with police in which he maintained he knew nothing about McMillian. The police hid this evidence after they coerced Myers to change his story. Confronted with this, Myers agreed to recant his false testimony. McMillian’s conviction was overturned by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 1993. The state agreed that the case was mishandled and dismissed the charges.

The death penalty does not deter crime: 

Many proponents of the death penalty believe it deters criminal activity. This is not proven. In fact, murder rates are higher in the south where the death penalty is mostly imposed compared to the northeast where it is imposed the least. 

It is more expensive to sentence people to death:

When the death penalty is a possible outcome of a case, the stakes are higher; more attorneys and experts have to be hired on both sides, trials are longer, and there are more appeals. The state typically pays for all of this. 

Additionally, while many states still sentence people to death, the penalty is rarely imposed these days. The result is that defendants serve a life sentence but at the cost of a death sentence, which is much higher. If they were sentenced to life in the first place, the state would avoid the extra costs.

See why MTIP’s leaders oppose capital punishment: