Green Bay Press Gazette

State lawmakers to introduce death penalty bills this year
By Jim Collar

January 12, 2003

On Saturday, Illinois Gov. George Ryan said he was clearing the state’s death row and commuting the sentences of all 156 inmates who had been sentenced to death, changing them all to sentences of life in prison. Maryland has placed a moratorium on executions. Advocacy groups call for other states to do the same.

In Wisconsin, however, an entirely different question on capital punishment is beginning to emerge: Should we have the death penalty here?It’s been more than 151 years since a convicted inmate has been executed in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin this year could decide whether its time to break that history.Sen. Alan Lasee, R-Rockland, announced plans to introduce a death penalty bill into the state legislature early this year. Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, followed with his own announcement of plans to seek an advisory referendum on the issue.

The referendum would allow citizens to vote for or against the establishment of a death penalty. The results would be used to inform lawmakers of public sentiment on the issue.Lasee said his bill has already been drafted, and he expects to introduce it soon.

The bill would establish death by lethal injection as a possible penalty for crimes including multiple murders, murders of police officers and murders of children.“This isn’t going to cover every murder,” Lasee said. “It’s for those certain kinds of murder that are so vicious and so traumatic for the surviving families. Even judges in some cases said if they would have had the option, they would have used it.”

For Chuck Mumbrue of Waupaca, the issue is a simple one. His son, Timothy Mumbrue, was found murdered with multiple stab wounds in 1992. The case remains unsolved.“Someone who commits a crime like that should die,” he said. “It wouldn’t make me feel any better, but it would give us some closure if they could find who did this and made them pay the price for what they did.”

Actions in support of the death penalty in Wisconsin aren’t unprecedented. Still, Wisconsin lawmakers in the past have shown strong opposition to capital punishment.

Wisconsin’s only execution as a state happened on Aug. 21, 1851, when close to 3,000 people gathered in Kenosha to watch the hanging of John McCaffary. McCaffary had been convicted of drowning his wife. Historians say the death sparked the movement to abolish the death penalty. Lawmakers in 1853 repealed capital punishment.

Jonathan Johns, leader of the local chapter of the Wisconsin Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said his group will begin work this month to inform the public on the bill. Because the death penalty is such an emotional issue, Wisconsin’s historical opposition to the death penalty is no assurance a bill wouldn’t pass in the future, he said.

Death Penalty Issues
Truth in Justice