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News-Leader Opinion: Review of death penalty policy needed

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Donna Walmsley, Springfield – (Click here for Source)

In his News-Leader opinion piece on May 2, “Hard to change many minds on the death penalty,” Christopher Dixon states that the death penalty is a topic dominated by “emotions” and “personal feelings.” It is one of those “debatable and highly personal topics” that it is “emotionally charged,” as well as one of a list of “certain subjects that are off limits.”

Certainly, many emotions can be involved when the death penalty is discussed, but capital punishment is currently public policy in the state of Missouri. Reliable data, individual dignity and the common good are the appropriate foundations of good public policy. Public policies are NOT “off limits,” rather, they need to be reviewed in the public forum for their effectiveness and contribution to the common good. Emotions are not the source of responsible lawmaking.

Missouri taxpayers have every right to question whether the death penalty is the smartest way to deal with capital murder and its effects on all of us, especially when credible information demonstrates that the arbitrary manner of those receiving death sentences in Missouri is correlated with the following:

  1. the financial resources of the county in which the crime was committed

  2. the aggressiveness of the county prosecutor in seeking death rather than life without parole

  3. the race and gender of the perpetrator and the victim

  4. the economic status of the accused perpetrator

  5. the availability of quality (i.e. experienced in capital cases) public defense

  6. the variability of factors involved in jury selection

  7.  the nature and content of the instructions provided to the jury in a capital case

Mr. Dixon also wrote that many families received “closure” following the four closely spaced executions in Arkansas in April, a conclusion of questionable value because “closure” appears to be an elusive, subjectively defined word. The family of Ozark resident Michael Greenwood, one of the murder victims of Kenneth Williams (the fourth of the four Arkansas inmates executed), asked for clemency in Williams’ case but the others did not. Greenwood’s family even decided to fly Mr. Williams’ daughter and granddaughter to Arkansas, picked them up at the airport and drove them to the prison to visit Williams prior to his execution. Williams had not seen his own daughter for 17 years, and this was the first and only time he saw his granddaughter. It seems that no public policy can legislate “closure” for victims’ family members.

We, as Missouri residents, have the opportunity to engage in serious civil discourse as we evaluate our public policies in the light of their effectiveness in bringing about the type of society we want to live in and raise our families. Serious, civil and respectful discourse on important societal issues must continue, especially when life or death is the result of our deliberations.

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