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Effort to end death penalty in Montana comes up one vote short

A push to end the death penalty in Montana fell short by just one vote in the state House this week.
A view of a death chamber on Aug. 29, 2001. (Mike Simons/Getty)
A view of a death chamber on Aug. 29, 2001.

A push to end the death penalty in Montana fell short by just one vote in the state House this week.

The effort came to an impasse after lawmakers came to a split 50-50 vote Monday, thus signaling the end of the measure for this year's session, the Billings Gazette newspaper reported. The state Senate has passed legislation abolishing the death penalty, but the House has not.

Supporters of the House bill say people on death row should spend their lives in prison without parole instead of facing the death penalty.

RELATED: Holder endorses death penalty moratorium

The cases of the two men who currently are on death row in Montana are under appeal in the state's court system. There have been a total of 74 executions in the state's history.

Voting on the measure came as several states are engaged in discussions about the constitutionality and high costs of the death penalty in the 32 states that enforce the practice. The botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last year brought the issue to the forefront. Amid the debate, officials in many of the states have scrambled to find new suppliers of lethal injection drugs after several pharmaceutical companies stopped carrying the medication because of criticism stemming from ethical concerns.

Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania suspended the death penalty in his state until he reviews an upcoming report on capital punishment, a procedure he called "flawed." Executions are also on hold in Oklahoma, pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this spring on a case involving the controversial sedative midazolam, which was used in problematic executions in at least three states. Simultaneously, Republicans are advocating for Oklahoma to become the country’s first state to execute death row inmates with nitrogen in a gas chamber.

Attorney General Eric Holder last week voiced his support for a national moratorium on executions while the Supreme Court hears the legal challenge to the death penalty in Oklahoma. He disputed Supreme Court Chief Justice Anton Scalia's claim that an American has never been executed in the country who was innocent.

Meanwhile in Georgia, officials on Wednesday delayed the execution of Kelly Renee Gissendaner until Monday, possibly due to inclement weather hours before the scheduled time. She will be the second woman ever executed in the Peach State.

A report published at the end of last year revealed that the United States had the lowest number of executions in two decades in 2014. Thirty-five people were executed nationwide last year, down from 39 who were executed in 2013.