Bill calls for hold and review of death penalty

Proponents say guilt of some death row inmates is unsure.
Thursday, February 1, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:40 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A call for a moratorium on the death penalty has come from an unlikely source — a Republican proponent of the death penalty.

Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, has proposed legislation that would put an end to all executions in the state of Missouri until 2011. The legislation also calls for a commission on the death penalty to be created in the state to review the implementation of the death penalty in past cases and assess pending death penalty cases.

Deeken said the Missouri Catholic Conference asked him to propose the legislation, even though he is a proponent of the death penalty in some cases.

“I am not against the death penalty. But what I am for is to make sure that any person that is sentenced to death is the right person,” Deeken said.

Deeken said he thinks that DNA evidence has led to the realization that the death penalty has not been implemented fairly in all cases. He said that for this reason it is necessary for the state to review the practice.

“If I was on a jury, and I found out I had put someone to death that was not guilty, it would bother me for the rest of my life,” Deeken said.

The proposed commission would consist of a broad cross-section of death penalty experts throughout the state, including a representative and a senator from both parties, as well as a family member of a murder victim and a family member of an individual on death row. It would look at issues regarding the death penalty and report its recommendations and findings to the governor, members of the legislature and the Missouri Supreme Court by 2011.

Deeken said that while he isn’t optimistic about the bill’s chances, he hopes the legislation will gain traction for the future.

“Do we think we’re going to get this passed this year? No. Bills just don’t get passed in one year,” Deeken said. “The main thing we want to do is get a hearing and get it out there and make people aware of what we are doing. And we are trying to just do what’s right.”

Rita Linhardt, a spokesperson for Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, said that her organization believes it is important for the state to stop and review the death penalty system and make sure proper justice is done.

“In Missouri, we feel that we’ve had 66 executions, but nobody has really taken the time to see how our system works and whether or not we have flaws in the system,” Linhardt said.

Although her organization seeks to end all executions in the state of Missouri, Linhardt said that, at the very least, it is important for the state to establish uniformity in cases in which they seek to implement the death penalty.

The bill faces opposition from Rep. Van Kelly, R-Norwood, the chairman of the House Corrections Committee. He called the implementation of a death penalty commission “another layer of bureaucracy” and said that he believes the death penalty process is taking too long already. Kelly said he recognized the importance of validating the guilt of those on death row, but said that he trusts the current system of appeals to deal with the issue. He also said that often in the death penalty debate, it is important to remember that victims have no voice and that imposing a moratorium would only delay justice for their families.

Rep. Rodney Hubbard, D-St. Louis, an opponent to the death penalty in all cases, co-sponsored the legislation and said he thinks that a moratorium bill would be a step in the right direction toward addressing other issues surrounding the death penalty. He said that the state should start looking at lack of education as a root cause of violent crime.

“My philosophy has always been ‘educate them now or incarcerate them later,’” Hubbard said.

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