Missouri Bar Association will not take a stance on the death
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Missouri Bar Association will not take a stance on the death

Date: October 29, 2007
By: Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Bar Association won't take a stance on having a moratorium on the death penalty in Missouri similar to national ban recommended by the American Bar Association.

Despite the American Bar Association's recommendation for a national moratorium, Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons, a practicing attorney as well as a candidate for the Republican nomination for attorney general, continues to support the death penalty in Missouri.

"I support the death penalty in those most heinous premeditated acts of murder," Gibbons said.

Monday, the American Bar Association (ABA), comprised of over 413,000 members, asked for a national moratorium after a three-year study uncovered many flaws within the system.

The study was done in eight states and found reoccurring problems including racial disparities, lack of preservation of evidence and irregular clemency review processes.Other concerns were short time periods to petition the courts for review and most states have had mistakes and fraud in crime laboratories.  

Another concern is the way that jury instructions are explained. In the study the American Bar Association found that jury instructions are poorly conveyed.

Missouri Bar Association President Charlie Harris said, "historically we have not taken a stance on this issue."

"The two organizations are completely autonomous...We are a non-partisan organization," Harris said. 

Gibbons said he does not believe that Missouri has any serious problems or exonerations, which other states have seen."That's just not the case in Missouri," he said.

Gibbons said Missouri has administered the death penalty appropriately.

"I don't believe that there is a need for a moratorium in Missouri," Gibbons said."There have been people over the years who have filed bills in the Missouri legislature calling for moratoriums or appeals to the death penalty, but the overwhelming number of members, really on a bipartisan basis, and apparently do not agree that there is a need for a moratorium in Missouri."

The ABA also expressed concerns regarding clients with mental disabilities.

Ernest Lee Johnson, an inmate on death row for murder who claims to be mentally disabled, has appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Nationally, there have been several high profile death row cases which have been overturned and Missouri has overturned or changed several convictions in recent years.

In April 2003, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned a conviction for Joseph Amrine from Kansas City for a murder that occurred 17 years prior to his conviction. There were problems with the testimony of three inmates who identified him. Last year, Leamon White was released after the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his sentence.  

In 1999, Darrell Mease was taken off of death row after Pope Jean Paul II asked for his sentence to be changed from capital punishment to life in prison.

Missouri Corrections Department spokesperson Brian Hauswirth, said there are 45 active death row inmates in Missouri. There are 172 people sentenced to the death penalty since 1979.

"We believe our process has been humane, and it is constitutional," Hauswirth said."Once they're sentenced to death, we are required to carry it out."

Hauswirth also said that it is well over ten years before an execution is taken out. One inmate, Elroy Preston, has been on death row since 1982.

Historically, black legislators have taken a stance on the racial disparities in convictions.

"It's been going on for many years, and it needs to be changed," Rep. Juanita Walton, a member of the Missouri Black Caucus said.

Walton said that racial disparities in convictions is a big problem in Missouri. She said she supports the American Bar Association, and said that the Missouri Black Caucus also takes this stance on the issue.

"I thinks that it's a great idea, the Black Caucus supports it," she said,