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Missouri should end the death penalty and spare Carman Deck

Updated: May 1, 2022

Missouri should end the death penalty and spare Carman Deck | Opinion - 4.29.22 -

The “machinery of death” is back to work in Missouri as the Missouri Supreme Court has issued an execution date of May 3 for Carman Deck.

James and Zelma Long were fatally shot during a robbery in their home in Desoto in 1997. Deck and his sister went to the Long home with the intent to rob them. The Longs were found lying facedown in their beds with gunshot wounds to the head. Deck was sentenced to death for each of the murders by a Jefferson County jury.

There is no punishment that could possibly rectify the tragic loss of life felt by the Long family and many community members who cherished them. If the state moves forward with the execution it will only serve to create more victims of this senseless murder.

In 2008, after his death sentence was overturned twice, Missouri succeeded in obtaining a third death sentence. The significant delay between Deck’s first and third trials seriously impaired his ability to present mitigating evidence to the final jury.

In 2017, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry called Missouri’s third penalty phase trial “fundamentally unfair,” noting Deck was unable to fully present evidence and advocate for his life due to delays caused by the state of Missouri. The significant mitigation regarding his abusive childhood, which Deck’s last jury heard only in a very limited way, included:

  • A mother who not only failed to feed her children, causing Deck, the oldest, to steal in order to provide for his three younger siblings, but was the corrupting influence that taught him to steal in the first place;

  • A mother that neglected and physically abused him when she was present in the home. While at other times, a mother that abandoned her children for long periods of time, leaving an 8-year-old Deck to fend for himself and care for his three younger siblings, who were about 3, 5 and 7 years younger than he was;

  • Constant hunger and food insecurity, so much that when abandoned for days by their mother the sheriff called his father to pick up the children. Given a meal, they gorged so much, his youngest brother threw up and tried to eat his vomit;

  • Moved between the homes of family members and foster parents constantly, living in twenty-three different placements before the age of 18;

  • Constant physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his mother and a stepmother. For example, his stepmother rubbed feces on his face leaving only his eyes, nostrils and mouth uncovered and demeaned him even more by taking a picture of it to share with others;

  • Efforts by others to intervene and provide Deck with a safe and stable home were rejected by his mother and father;

  • While serving time as a young adult in the Missouri prison system, Deck was gang-raped. His sister reports, “Carman was never the same after this.”

Deck has been in prison for two decades, and an execution will not restore or undo the harm he caused so long ago. He is not the person portrayed by prosecutors. At the time the warrant of execution was issued, Deck lived in the “honor dorm” at Potosi. During the 25 years since the offense, he has learned to function in prison in a peaceful way.

Last week Deck attorneys sent an application for executive clemency to Gov. Mike Parson and the parole board asking for a commutation of the capital sentence to life without parole. The petition describes, “Mr. Deck’s life history is replete with circumstances that render a sentence of life without the possibility of parole a more merciful and just punishment than a sentence of death.”

We do not ask that he be exempt from accountability for his crimes — we only ask that Missouri avoid its own horrific display of how the state can use its power to take life so ineffectively and inhumanely. Gov. Parson can choose to commute Deck’s sentence to life without parole.

Our justice system, and particularly our response to violence, fails to heal our communities. We need a response to crime that does not perpetuate the cycle of violence. The death penalty is rife with errors and inconsistencies, fails to deter crime, and has a steep cost in financial and human terms. Death is not justice, and we should not execute this man.

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