Updated: Mar 1
#BlackHistoryMonth is a time for us to reflect on, highlight, and celebrate prominent Black Missourians working toward racial justice, dismantling systems of oppression, and creating just and equitable futures.
At MADP, we highlight prominent Black Leaders and Individuals impacted by and working to end the death penalty in Missouri throughout the year. Join us throughout this month to learn more about Black Missourians and communities leading the way.
Brian Christopher Williams is an American politician who is a member of the Missouri Senate from the 14th district in St. Louis County. Williams is the first African American male elected to the Missouri Senate in 20 years.
Senator Williams is passionate about access to mental and physical health care among Black communities in Missouri. He has previously sponsored death penalty legislation that would provide protections to those with severe mental illness.
Christine Peoples works for the City of Springfield as the Coordinator for Timmons Hall, a historic African American Church in Springfield that was saved and now serves as an event space for the Parks and Rec Board of Springfield-Greene County. She is also a liaison with the Community Remembrance Project of Springfield, MO. “As the coordinator of Timmons Hall, I’m excited to bring community history back to the table. Timmons Hall connects past, present and future communities in a creative space of rediscovery. Our community will benefit from something they have done together. The saving of Timmons and now the celebration and exploration of educational, cultural and historical community events and activities through Timmons!” - Christine Peoples
Image: Christine Peoples stands between two pews located within Timmons Hall. There is a piano in the background. A quote to her right states, “
“This journey of remembrance may be silent as we stand here today. But for us to be able to heal we need to tell of that injustice, and know the truth. It will set you free.
I ask you: Who is our brother? Who is our neighbor? Who is our community?”
Cristine Peoples, at the Green County Soil Collection for Horace Duncan, Fred Coker, and William Allen, hosted by the Community Remembrance Project of Springfield-Green County, September 19th, 2020. Learn more about the Community Remembrance Project of Missouri at www.crp-mo.org.
The state of Missouri executed Larry Griffin on June 21, 1995. Griffin’s execution is considered one of the top 5 most wrongful executions in the US. He was convicted & sentenced to death for the 1981 shooting murder of Quintin Moss. Griffin maintained his innocence until the end.
There was no DNA evidence linking Griffin to the murder, & the 1981 conviction relied on the testimony of a single key eyewitness, Robert Fitzgerald, a known jailhouse snitch.
A 2005 report by Uni. of Michigan Law School professor Sam Gross & the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund found problems in the case. As reported by NBC News at the time:
“The first police officer at the scene of the 1980 shooting, Michael Ruggeri, now says that the story told by the supposed eyewitness was false, even though Ruggeri’s own testimony at trial supported what the witness said. A second victim of the shooting, Wallace Conners, has said he was never contacted by the defense or the prosecution. Conners, now 52, who was wounded in the attack, said the supposed eyewitness was not present at the shooting.” An investigation by Gross and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund found Wallace Conners, the wounded man. He said he saw the gunman and that it was not Larry Griffin. Conners said he had never been interviewed by police."
Following the report, a coalition including MO House Rep. William Lacy Clay, high-profile lawyers, & the victim’s family called for a re-investigation of the case to clear Larry Griffin’s name.
Jennifer Joyce, the STL DA at the time, did re-open the case & in 2007, released a report that her investigators found a new witness, identified only as “Carl Doe,” who claimed he was with Fitzgerald at the scene of the shooting to buy drugs, not because Fitzgerald’s car broke down. The report also claimed, “Conners was interviewed by police three times within 36 hours of the shooting and said he could not identify the gunman.” Joyce’s credibility in these matters, given her history, is questionable.
Larry Griffin is the uncle of MO Death Row Exoneree, Reginald "Reggie" Griffin.
Of the 20 men on death row in Missouri, three are ineligible for execution. Roosevelt Pollard is one of them.
Image: Roosevelt Pollard was sentenced to death in 1986 for the 1983 killing of Richard Alford, an Arkansas businessman. He was ruled incompetent for execution in 1999. His attorneys demonstrated to then-Governor Mel Carnahan that he cannot understand the reason for his execution. Pollard has chronic schizophrenia and organic brain damage. Roosevelt is currently the third longest serving person on Missouri’s death row, behind William Boliek (sentenced in 1984) and Charles Mathenia (sentenced in 1985).
All three longest serving men on death row in Missouri are ineligible for execution.
In a study released in December 2020, Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) pointed to the disproportionate number of death sentences imposed on people of color with intellectual disabilities:
“The review of more than 130 cases involving defendants whose death sentences have been overturned because of the constitutional prohibition against executing persons with intellectual disability found that more than 80% of intellectually disabled defendants sentenced to death are persons of color. Two-thirds of the intellectually disabled defendants sentenced to death are African American (87, or 66.4%); 19.1% (25) are white; 13.7% (18) are Latinx, and one (0.8%) is Asian.” - DPIC, December 2020
DPIC Executive Robert Dunham, who conducted the analysis, said “[t]he numbers further confirm what researchers have repeatedly documented in other contexts: that vulnerable defendants who belong to communities that have historically been discriminated against by the criminal legal system face an elevated risk of being wrongfully sentenced to death. The findings are especially significant now, as the federal government and several states are rushing to execute a number of intellectually disabled Black men without affording them meaningful judicial review of legal claims that, if proven, would require their death sentences to be vacated.”
Shamed Dogan has worked to ensure the rights of Black Missourians by serving in the Missouri House of Representatives. Today we honor his steadfast work.
Republican Representative Shamed Dogan represents part of St. Louis County (District 98). His district includes parts of Ballwin, Ellisville, Fenton, and Wildwood. He was elected to his first two-year term in November 2014, and re-elected to additional terms in 2016 and 2018. Dogan serves as Chairman of the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice, which was created to craft innovative policy solutions that ensure the safety of the public and address the state’s prison overcrowding problem.
Rep. Dogan's legislative agenda has focused on education reform, ethics reform, and criminal justice reform.
Image: Representative Dogan has long supported the efforts of MADP to ensure the constitutional rights of those facing capital sentencing. Currently, Missouri and Indiana are the only two states in the country where a judge can overrule a deadlocked jury in capital murder cases. This kind of Judicial Override is unconstitutional. In 2021, Dogan sponsored HB 462, which would end Judicial Override in Missouri.
Read more about HB 462: https://house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills211/hlrbillspdf/1111H.01I.pdf