COLUMBIA — Several local death penalty opponents and a California activist announced Wednesday that a coalition of local organizations and businesses have joined the Moratorium Now! campaign. The campaign calls for a stop to the death penalty in Missouri while it's given a thorough study.
The panel of five people spoke on behalf of Moratorium Now! at a news conference at the First Baptist Church.
A total of 105 Columbia entities — including organizations, businesses and houses of worship — have banded together to push for a death penalty study for Missouri and a discussion about the legal and moral merits of execution.
"Sixty-seven people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstituted in Missouri," said Jeff Stack, who was representing the local chapter of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "It's the fifth most executed by any U.S. state. Since then three men have been exonerated after their sentences have been carried out."
In August, House Bill 484 sought to establish a commission on the death penalty placing a moratorium on all executions until Jan. 1, 2012. The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, and co-sponsored by Reps. Chris Kelly and Stephen Webber, both D-Columbia, did not pass.
Panelists cited both moral and financial anxieties about the use of the death penalty.
"We know that the fear of executing innocents is real," said Mona Cadena with Equal Justice USA.
Donnie Morehouse, executive director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said: "What is being spent on the death penalty in Missouri is one of the questions our legislators should ask. No one in this room knows what that number is."
Deeken has agreed to sponsor another death penalty study and moratorium bill this legislative session.
Geographic disparity, poverty and race are all factors that complicate the application of the death penalty, which has been done "unfairly and arbitrarily," according to Moratorium Now! The Death Penalty Information Center has created a fact sheet that shows statistics on the death penalty in the U.S. and how it's related to other factors such as race, innocence and economic class.
Robert Linsey, 58, of Moberly has been a member of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty for two years. After the news conference, he talked about hearing about the experience of a woman who was a survivor of a murder victim. Though the person found guilty of the crime was sentenced to death, she said "vengeance isn't healing," Linsey recalled.
"We're not saying let people out of jail in droves," he said. "We're just saying take a step back and allow these studies to be done for a more engaging conversation on what can be done about the death penalty."
Missouri is one of 35 states that has the death penalty as an option for sentencing.
A "lobby day" for the organization to gain more support for the bill is planned for March 17 in Jefferson City.