Death penalty foes cite 25 years of executions in Missouri

Monday, January 13, 2014 | 2:51 p.m. CST; updated 3:46 p.m. CST, Monday, January 13, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — As Missouri prepares to execute its third inmate in the past few months, a group of death penalty opponents urged state lawmakers Monday to halt executions.

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty gathered at the state Capitol to mark 25 years since the state resumed executions. Reggie Griffin, who was recently cleared of a capital punishment case in Missouri, spoke in support of ending the death penalty.

"I wouldn't wish for anyone to go through what I had to go through," he said.

Griffin was convicted and sentenced to death in 1983 for killing fellow inmate James Bausley in a fatal stabbing at a Moberly prison. His sentence was reduced to life without parole in 1993, but he remained in prison until the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 2011.

He was released in December 2012, and prosecutors announced he would face no additional charges in 2013. His uncle, Larry Griffin, was executed for the killing of Quintin Moss in 1995.

Missouri's first execution after a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment was lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 was that of George Mercer. He was executed on Jan. 6, 1989, for the rape and slaying of waitress Karen Keeton in the Kansas City area.

Since then, Missouri has executed 70 inmates and nearly 50 more currently sit on death row.

Death penalty opponents painted a picture of a broken system that arbitrarily sentences people to death. On the other hand, supporters argue the death penalty works to deter potential crime.

"We need to have a method that will keep people from committing horrendous crimes in this state," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Fitzwater.

Fitzwater, R-Potosi, said he is not in favor of abolishing the death penalty, but is willing to hold hearings in his committee this year on alternative proposals. A House Democrat from Kansas City announced plans last week to introduce legislation that would place a moratorium on Missouri executions.

But legislation to change Missouri's death penalty has not gained traction in recent years. A proposal in 2013 to commission a report on the cost of imposing the death penalty when compared with the cost of sentencing someone to life without parole stalled in the Senate.

The planned Jan. 29 execution of Herbert Smulls, who was convicted of killing a St. Louis County jeweler in 1991, would be Missouri's third lethal injection in two months.

The previous two executed inmates — Joseph Paul Franklin and Allen Nicklasson — were the first since Missouri switched to its one-drug execution method of using pentobarbital, a powerful sedative.

Also Monday, the chairman of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee announced plans to hold a hearing next week on the state's current execution protocols.

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