February 8th marked an historic occasion in the Missouri Senate–it was the first time a floor debate took place to consider a death penalty repeal bill since 1974. A devout Catholic and consistent supporter of life, Senator Paul Wieland offered S. 816 for approval to the full Missouri Senate. Wieland indicated that as a fiscal conservative, he did not see that the death penalty makes effective use of taxpayer dollars. Further, it fails to deter crime and has not been applied equitably.
Other Senators echoed his concerns. No other state program would be permitted to hand over sacks full of cash, without oversight. The theme presented by the cosponsors highlighted Missouri’s failure to implement the death penalty in a fair and impartial manner, deep concerns over racial and geographic disparities, and fundamental flaws that lead to the conviction of innocent individuals. Prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate legal representation and cases such as those examined in Netflix’s presentation of Stephen Avery, were discussed in detail. The exoneration of individuals such as Clarence Dexter, Eric Clemmons, Joseph Armine, and Reggie Griffin, previously held on Missouri’s death row, demonstrated deeply troubling failures in Missouri’s capital punishment system.
Senator Wieland emphasized that it was time the Senate took up the death penalty in an earnest conversation. having the full debate represented an important step in that direction, and Wieland vowed that next year would bring the question even further to the fore. He then laid it over to the informal calendar.
Future debates should well address the question raised by Equal Justice’s Bryan Stevenson, “The question of the death penalty is not, “Do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit?” Instead, “I think the threshold question is, ‘Do we deserve to kill?'”