Rep. leads second try at ending executions

Demonstrators at the Columbia courthouse call for a moratorium on the death penalty.
Thursday, June 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:32 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Though Missouri reinstated the death penalty in 1989, Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, wants to lead a second effort to end executions in the state. “A moratorium will allow for an impartial review (of the death penalty), which is what we need,” she said.

Baker is a co-sponsor of bill HB 557, which would place a moratorium on the death penalty in Missouri. The bill would allow for a review of how the death penalty is applied.

Baker spoke to nearly 20 people about the bill in front of the Boone County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon. The audience was assembled for a demonstration organized by the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Columbia attorney Melinda Pendergraph said anyone in the law business takes it as a given that applying the death penalty is arbitrary. The races of the victim, defendant and jury all play a part in the application of the death penalty, as well as economic biases that lead to poor people getting the death penalty, she said.

“I think we have a problem with how the death penalty is applied,” Baker said. “Until studied, we must stop applying it.”

The demonstration was based on an annual event in Washington D.C, said Jeff Stack of the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation. This is the second time the Columbia event was held. The demonstrations commemorate two decisions by the U.S. Supreme court — the June 29, 1972, Furman vs. Georgia decision and the July 2, 1976, Gregg vs. Georgia decision. These decisions temporarily abolished the death penalty.

Abe Bonowitz, director of Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said this is his 10th year at the 12th annual Washington event.

Because the anniversaries of the court rulings are four days apart, the group maintains a presence in front of the Supreme Court building for four days.

Stack said he wants the Missouri legislature to look more closely at how the death penalty is applied in Missouri.

“This is a perfect time to be evaluating the death penalty, during these anniversaries,” he said.

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