EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 51/61/95
EXTRA 42/95 Death Penalty 20 April 1995
USA (Montana) Duncan MCKENZIE
Duncan McKenzie is scheduled to be executed in the state of Montana on 10 May
Duncan McKenzie was sentenced to death in 1975 for the kidnapping and murder
of school teacher Lana Harding. Duncan McKenzie is currently Montana's longest
serving death row inmate.
Before his trial Duncan McKenzie was offered and accepted a prison sentence
in exchange for a guilty plea. However, despite the fact that the plea-bargain
had already been approved by the trial-judge, this offer was withdrawn after
objections from the victim's family. The mother of the victim is a state senator.
Duncan McKenzie was tried under Montana's 1973 death penalty laws which
contained no listing of mitigating circumstances for prisoners facing capital
punishment. These laws were repealed in 1977. Duncan McKenzie is the only person
currently sentenced to death under the old laws.
At the trial, testimony from psychiatrists on behalf of both the State and
the defence presented clear evidence of Duncan McKenzie's mental illness. In
his sentencing order, the judge made no comment on the mitigating effect of
In a recent ruling the Supreme Court of Montana refused to hear an appeal
from Duncan McKenzie. The appeal was based on the State of Montana's refusal
to allow the change in its death penalty laws to be applied in McKenzie's
case. In an unusual move, the Court gave no reason for its ruling. The Court's
decisions in McKenzie's case have been criticised by former Justice Dan Shea
in his dissenting opinion, "The McKenzie Rules: Not for General
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally as a violation
of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or
degrading punishment, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human
Duncan McKenzie would be the first person to be executed in Montana in over
50 years. The last prisoner to be executed in Montana was Philip "Slim" Coleman
on 10 September 1943. As of January 1995, Montana had 8 prisoners under sentence
of death. Prisoners are offered a choice of hanging or lethal injection as
the method of execution.
The power to grant commutation of a death sentence rests with the state governor.
The governor needs the approval of, but is not bound by, the majority opinion
of the three-member Board of Pardons. The Board of Pardons is appointed by