Growing Trend - Missouri Prosecutors Waive Death Penalty Tickets
Missouri is falling in line with the growing trend across the nation of prosecutors who’ve chosen to waive death penalty tickets to save time and money and assure murder victims’ family members are not waiting decades for an outcome in these cases. As of today, there are 17 pending capital cases in Missouri.
This month, two death tickets for individuals facing capital murder charges have been waived - Grayden Denham in Platte County and Terry Ewens in Miller County. This brings the number of capital cases waived to seven total for 2021
There are several reasons Missouri prosecutors have opted to forgo the lengthy and fiscally irresponsible path of pursuing the death penalty. First, the death penalty in Missouri is given in geographically isolated areas that typically cannot afford to prosecute such cases. This frequently leads to changes of venue (moving a case to a nearby county). Overall the amount of time it takes to bring an individual to trial is staggering.
In late September 2021, Stephen Thompson was finally brought to trial in Joplin, five years after wounding his ex-wife and murdering her partner. Jasper County prosecutor, Theresa Kinney, pulled the death ticket to avoid further delays and preserve the trial date. Eric Lawson waited nine years to go to trial, facing a sentence of death. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to seat 12 death-qualified jurors, he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole in May 2021 in St. Louis City.
Based on the length of time it took for prosecutors to bring Eric Lawson to trial this year, the three individuals who have pending capital cases in St. Louis City will likely end up waiting a total of 7-10 years before going to trial, unless prosecutors pursue alternative sentences.
Missouri Prosecutors aren’t alone in taking death off the table. Conservatives, in particular, are turning away from the death penalty in other states. Utah prosecutor David Leavitt has waived the death penalty in the 2017 murder of two teens, citing the moral and fiscal issues related to the death penalty.
The death penalty works against prosecutors aim to ensure lengthy processes do not retraumatize victims’ families, and that defendants awaiting trial are not held for excessive amounts of time pre-trial. It is long past time that prosecutors in Missouri align with the growing number of prosecutors in the country who know that the death penalty is a wasteful and flawed system.