TODAY'S QUESTION: Should Missouri abolish its death penalty?

Friday, March 11, 2011 | 10:38 a.m. CST; updated 4:37 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 12, 2011

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a repeal Wednesday to abolish the death penalty, making his state the 16th to do away with the capital sentence. In previous articles, Quinn said the decision to repeal the law was the hardest he's had to make in office.

Fifteen men formerly on Illinois' death row now will not be executed.

A Supreme Court decision largely halted executions throughout the U.S. from 1972 to 1976, though some states re-enacted the death penalty sooner.

After its capital punishment was resumed in July 1974, Illinois executed 11 and released 20 of its death row inmates.

The most recent execution in Illinois took place in 1999, when lethal injection was used to end the life of serial killer and satanic cultist Andrew Kokoraleis.

While some argue that the fate of Illinois' death penalty should have been left for voters to decide, others say the inmates sentenced to death were the real winners after Quinn signed the repeal.

Illinois' action could have implications beyond that state's borders.

On Tuesday, state Rep. Susan Carlson, D-St. Louis, filed a bill for Missouri to repeal its death penalty. The bill has 34 co-sponsors; the House has read it twice. But no hearings had been scheduled as of Thursday, and state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, spoke skeptically about the bill's potential.

The American Bar Association urges states to review usage of the death penalty, especially in light of wrongful and overturned convictions. In a previous Missourian article, MU law professor Paul Litton — a member of the committee reviewing Missouri's capital punishment law — described the importance of a public discussion about the death penalty.

"I don't know if the Illinois change will spark debate in Missouri, but I think it should," he said.

Litton said that just because Missouri has released only three inmates from death row, while Illinois has released 20, that "doesn't mean that Missouri has not executed an innocent person."

Missouri has had 68 executions — the fifth most in the U.S. — since it reinstated its death penalty in September 1975. Life without the option of parole is also a sentencing option.

Should Missouri abolish its death penalty?

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Christopher Foote March 11, 2011 | 12:59 p.m.

Yes. The exoneration of people on death row in both Missouri and others states is stark evidence that the process is fallible and that innocent people have been wrongfully executed by the state. I have yet to hear a cogent defense of the death penalty in lieu of lifetime imprisonment, especially when one takes into account that innocent people have been put to death.

(Report Comment)
Robin Nuttall March 11, 2011 | 8:24 p.m.

I'm with Christopher. I would have no moral issue with the death penalty if the system were perfect and only the truly guilty were ever executed. But we know now for a fact that there are people on death row who are innocent, and I'm sure we have executed innocent people. That is horrific.

(Report Comment)
Layton Light March 12, 2011 | 11:18 a.m.

While I don’t see it as a deterrent, and I do see it’s implementation as imperfect, I don’t think it should be abolished. I would argue the following:

1. The victims of certain crimes should have the right to see that punishment exercised. There is a valid argument to be made as to the benefit of retribution in punishment for certain offenses, both for society and for the individual victims. The state should not summarily take that option away from victims, local communities and prosecutors who wish to use it. For a good general discussion on punishment, take a look at the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2. The advent of DNA based convictions has made mistakes much less likely. The appeals process also serves to make the execution of an innocent much less likely. In addition, juries are less likely to recommend death if there is not substantial evidence of both guilt and aggravating circumstances that call for imposition of the death penalty. The recent jury decision in St. Louis, to sentence Shepard to life rather than death illustrates how difficult it is to get the death penalty recommendation when depending on a jury. Shepard took the stand and admitted to stalking and executing a University City Police Officer for no reason other than his hatred of white police and his desire to incite a race war. He expressed no remorse or regret when testifying, and somehow the jury thought the mitigating circumstances outweighed the aggravating circumstances and recommended life without parole.

3. The threat of a death penalty is an incentive for the guilty to admit their guilt in exchange for a lesser sentence. If you take that option off of the table, what incentive is there for a guilty person to plead guilty and avoid a trial? Would you then see prosecutors offer life with the possibility of parole for a guilty plea? Again, it’s something that victims, local communities and prosecutors should decide.

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen March 14, 2011 | 12:37 p.m.

Legally, the State is the victim (e.g. The State of Missouri vs. ___). They don't have to care about who was harmed.

Until we have a better understanding of the difference between punishment and justice, this issue will not be well settled.

I tend to side with the crowd that looks at the inevitable hypocrisy by the State when it says that killing isn't okay, and we'll kill anybody who does.

What would a more advanced culture do? What do we want to work toward? (If you think we're already the most advanced culture, I would suggest it would be akin to an adolescent thinking they've got it all figured out).

(Report Comment)
Tommy Piatchek Jr. March 15, 2011 | 7:52 p.m.


I am Tommy Piatchek, the writer of this question. Thanks for your comment.

How do you propose we work toward gaining a better understanding of the difference between punishment and justice?

If we simply left the issue up to a vote for all adult citizens of Missouri to decide, would that be justice enough?

Tommy Piatchek, Jr.

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