Five ideas: What are your thoughts on these items in the news this week?

Saturday, April 5, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:24 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Airline options debated

Members of the Airport Advisory Board are divided evenly on which of three airlines to recommend to provide service at Columbia Regional Airport. At a meeting Wednesday, the board looked at flights between Columbia and Memphis, Tenn., and the prospect of cheaper fares to and from Kansas City.

Several board members liked the proposal by Great Lakes Aviation of Cheyenne, Wyo., which included four daily flights to Kansas City for $75 a ticket (compared to $150 currently charged by Mesa Airlines). They also liked a plan to advertise Columbia on the tail of their planes.

Great Lakes, however, would need to acquire 10 more planes if it won contracts in Columbia and Joplin. Board members noted that efforts to draw interest for flights to Kansas City in the past have mostly been unsuccessful.

Mesaba Airlines of Eagan, Minn., proposed three daily round-trip flights to Memphis. One-way fares would cost $95. Board members who liked this proposal pointed out that Memphis is a hub and could take travelers to more final destinations than a Kansas City connection.

Great Lakes made its pitch Wednesday, and board members will hear Mesaba’s plan at its next meeting.

Hawaii’s Island Air received a lukewarm response, since it lacks what Columbia residents want — connections to more destinations. Board members also did not like their flight times.

Mesa Airlines has filed to end service in Columbia by April 20.

Would you prefer frequent flights to Kansas City or to Memphis?

Death penalty discussed

State House representatives discussed a bill this week to impose a moratorium on the death penalty and create a related commission. The bill, led by Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, gained bipartisan support.

Deeken said he is in favor of the death penalty, even though the bill he sponsors would stop any initiatives to execute until January 2011. He said his goal is to make sure the person convicted of murder is, in fact, guilty of the crime, and that he was willing to explore other options,

The bill addresses adequate access to evidence, having adequate council and racial discrepancies. It would also make a commission responsible for making recommendations for changes to the law and court rules about the death penalty.

Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, expressed concern.

“My sense is that this is a vehicle to totally do away with the death penalty ... You could put as a referendum on our whole judicial system whether the person is eligible for the death penalty or not,” he said.

Proponents of the bill said executions needed to stop until they had learned more about use of DNA evidence. Two men who spent years in prison before their convictions were overturned also spoke in favor the bill.

A commission would also seek to make sure race does not play a role in determining which defendants are sentenced to death.

There have been 66 executions in Missouri since 1989. Currently, 46 men are on death row, and 21 are black. None have an execution scheduled.

The American Bar Association has asked for a national moratorium after a three-year study showed that the system had many flaws.

No one testified against the bill, and the committee did not take action.

Is this the best way to bring justice to those convicted of first-degree murder?

Teaching certificate opposed

Deborah Carr, an associate dean in MU’s College of Education, testified before a House committee against a measure to allow people without education degrees to teach full time in public schools after certification by a national organization. The Senate has already passed the measure.

Carr said that the American Board of Certification for Teacher Excellence requires too few hours of classroom experience prior to certification. She testified that she would only support the program if it targeted high-need subjects like math and science.

Bill sponsor Luann Ridgeway said the state’s existing programs force people to quit their jobs and attend classes or teach without preparation if they want to switch careers.

The bill was passed 6-1 by the House Student Achievement Committee, even though Carr and two professors from William Jewell opposed it. The professors say the state already has adequate alternative certification programs, and night classes are available for those interested.

What additional steps does Missouri need to take to widen its roadway for a prospective public school teacher?

Budget cuts hit public schools

The Columbia School Board unanimously approved $5.23 million in budget cuts Thursday morning.

Top-tier items would eliminate one work day from contracts for 1,549 employees, increase wait time for certain employees seeking health insurance and reduce curriculum textbook budgets.

Instead of cutting four literacy coaches from the school district’s payroll, the board voted to cut only two.

Thursday’s meeting was a continuation of one that drew more than 80 people to the discussion. Besides media, about 20 people showed up for the second meeting, and no public comment was made.

Results of Tuesday’s vote on a 54-cent tax levy will determine whether more cuts must be made. If the proposition is voted down, the board will need to cut $5 million more out of its 2008-2009 budget.

Board member Jan Mees, who made a motion to approve the cuts, emphasized that the board’s intention was to restrict cuts to areas that would not directly affect children in the classroom.

If Columbia does not approve a 54-cent tax increase Tuesday, what additional cuts should be made to the budget?

Science cafes begin downtown

Cherry Street Artisan hosted Columbia’s first science cafe Tuesday night.

A science cafe is an event, not a place, where members of the community meet with scientists to discuss relevant topics. The first cafe featured MU Life Sciences Center Director Jack Schultz talking about biofuels as an alternative energy source.

The format of the cafe was modeled after science cafes held in Boston, where a scientist speaks about an issue in layman’s terms, then opens the presentation to group discussion.

“We live in a town with a world-class resource as far as people who know things,” Schultz said. “In this society, technical and scientific skills tend to be critical. A goal here is to talk about science.”

He talked about using corn to make ethanol and discussed problems that would occur if the country’s vehicles all switched to corn ethanol. A participant raised a question about using switch grass for ethanol, and Schultz spoke about it as well as many other alternative fuels. He emphasized that there would not be just one solution.

Science cafes will be held at the Cherry Street Artisan on the first Tuesday of the month for the rest of the year. The next will be on May 6. The next topic will be determined by public requests.

What would you like to learn more about at a science cafe?

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Dudley Sharp April 6, 2008 | 1:04 p.m.

Execution Moratorium - Bad Idea

Rep. Bill Deeken (R-Jefferson City) and others have filed or co sponsored HB 1870, which would establish a moratorium on the death penalty until 2011, along with a death penalty study commission.

Rep. Deeken and others have voiced various reasons to support that bill (see below), I have followed those with my REPLY, to rebut or add to those ideas.
1. Rep Deeken: Is Missouri executing innocent people?

Reply: The answer is no.

Actual innocence reviews are already done, extensively, throughout the investigation, the pre trial, trial and appellate process and by the executive branch, through clemency/commutation review.

Is the commission going to have a new trial with cross examinations, rules of evidence, sworn testimony? This is the job of the legal process and the judiciary.

Any study will show that, very rarely, actual innocents are found guilty and sentenced to death, They are later freed based upon post conviction reviews.. We already know this, just as we know that actual innocents are, also rarely, found guilty for all levels of crime.

There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

In addition, there are Innocents Projects throughout the US, including in Missouri, whose sole task is looking for innocents convicted or executed. There is no logical reason for The Missouri General Assembly to spend additional time and money on such a study.

The supporters of this bill should be aware that innocents are more at risk with an execution moratorium or, otherwise, without the death penalty.

SEE: "The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents", to follow.

What about a much more serious innocence problem?

How many Missourians have been harmed and murdered by those criminals on parole and probation, while under Missouri government supervison? I suspect thousands of innocents have sufferred serious injuries and hundreds of innocents have been murdered by those criminals in Missouri since 1977.

Possibly a moratorium and study of those practices is truly merited. It is a huge innocent harmed problem.

2.Rep Deeken: Look at the role race plays in the administering the death penalty

REPLY: The race issue has been well covered and can also be a review issue, pre trial, trial and on appeal, when merited. When based upon thorough examination, see below, racial bias in death penalty cases does not appear to be a current problem.

See "RACE: No Bias in Death Penalty Sentencing", to follow.

3. Rep Deeken: Look at the adequacy of a defendant’s legal counsel and

REPLY: Adequacy of defense counsel can always be an issue at every stage of the legal process.

Is there any criminal sanction in Missouri that gets better representation and better due process protections than the death penalty? No.

(Report Comment)
Dudley Sharp April 6, 2008 | 1:05 p.m.


4. Rep Deeken: Do prosecutors who seek the death penalty do it consistently across the state?

REPLY: No need for this study. No sanction, absent mandatory sentencing guidelines, is consistent across any state. The death penalty cannot be mandatory. Prosecutorial discretion is important. Some prosecutors pursue the death penalty more often than others. This is the same with all sanctions that don't have mandatory sentencing.

This is well known. No need for a study.

5. Rep. Deeken’s bill would establish a ten-person commission.

COMMENTARY: Nationally, most of these commissions are stacked against the death penalty and it is, usually known anti death penalty folks, or closet anti death penalty folks, who push them. The proposed ten member commission in Missouri could, easily, be stacked with 6-9 anti death penalty folks, with the result predetermined.

There are two ways to avoid that bias. No commission, which seems merited, based upon the review, above. Or select well known supporters and opponents of the death penalty, making sure there is an even number of both, where both sides to the debate agree on those chosen and their numbers. It's tough to do, but it's possible. The result would likely be a 5-5 vote.

Therefore, no commission seems like the better solution.

7) What do the supporters of HB 1870 really want?

Rep. Deeken states: “If I was on a jury and condemned a person to death, and he was put to death, and I found out five years later that he was not guilty, that would be very hard for me to live with."

REPLY: Neither a commission nor a moratorium will remove that fear, unless the real goal is to do away with the death penalty. Furthermore, it is questionable that any of the stated concerns merit an additional study or additional delay in a process that already has the longest and most thorough review process.

Furthermore, innocents are more at risk without the death penalty. They may cause some to reconsider their thinking.

SEE: "The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents", to follow.

So what is it that the supporters really want? It's a fair question.

8) Voice of Opposition

Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, said "My sense is (the moratorium) is a vehicle to totally do away with the death penalty".

“There are a lot of factors that I always hear argued about as a reason that we need to get rid of it — somebody changes a witness or an account of a crime. But people need to understand is there’s a lot of things already built into the system.”

REPLY: Precisely.

(Report Comment)
Dudley Sharp April 6, 2008 | 2:42 p.m.

How weak is the case for an execution moratorium (House Bill 1870)?
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below.

To: The Missouri General Assembly and
Media throughout Missouri

The following is review of the April 1, 2008 House testimony of premier witnesses for a death penalty moratorium, taken from media reports.

1) Dennis Fritz, the wrongly imprisoned

Mr. Fritz was an innocent convicted for a rape and murder in Oklahoma - not Missouri - he was not on death row but in prison. Had DNA testing been available at the time of the crime, he would not have been tried or sent to prison.

Logically, his presentation is for a moratorium on incarceration in Oklahoma, prior to the time of DNA testing.

Mr Fritz opines: "There are many, many other people out there -- it's my opinion -- on death row that are innocent,".

No facts, only his opinion.

The facts find that, since 1973, about 0.3% of those sent to US death rows were actually innocent and that they were all freed by post conviction review - possibly the most accurate sanction in the US.

Obviously, Mr. Fritz offered no reason for an execution moratorium or study in Missouri.

My sympathies for Debra Sue Carter, her family and Mr. Fritz and his family

2. Ginger Masters - widow of murdered David Masters, a former Macon County prosecutor.

She states: "Most of the time I don't think the state should be in the business of killing its citizens,"

Missouri agrees with Mrs. Masters. Executions only occur in those rare circumstances when the law allows it, prosecutors find it just to seek and after extraordinary due process.

She states: "But then comes along some particularly heinous murder, and I think, 'You know, that person may really deserve to die for that crime."


She was concerned about minority exclusions on juries and that potential jurors, who opposed execution, would be excluded from death eligible cases.

Jury exclusions are an appellate issue, when merited, and jurors who cannot support the law, by imposing any sentencing option for the subject case must be excluded from the jury. Very basic.

Obviously, Mrs. Masters offered no reason for an execution moratorium or study in Missouri.

My sympathies to Mrs. Masters and her family.

3. Kevin Green, falsely accused for the death of his unborn daughter. Freed by DNA exclusion

Mr. Green was wrongly imprisoned in California, not Missouri, for this crime.

This is a good case for an incarceration moratorium in California, before there was DNA testing.

Obviously, Mr. Green offered no reason for an execution moratorium or study in Missouri.

My sympathies to Mr. Green and his family.


All of these witnesses were kindly and respectfully treated, but none offered any factual support for a death penalty study or execution moratorium in Missouri.

(Report Comment)

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