Friday, 2 February 2007

Death penalty supporter seeks execution pause

Death penalty supporter seeks execution pause

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) - A death penalty supporter wants to halt Missouri executions for three years.

Rep. Bill Deeken has proposed legislation declaring a three-year moratorium on executions to permit DNA testing for those accused of capital crimes. Juries still would be allowed to order death sentences.

Deeken, R-Jefferson City, said he is concerned about executing innocent people but does not have a philosophical problem with the death penalty. He said he supports a proposal by Gov. Matt Blunt to make the death penalty mandatory when a law enforcement officer is killed.

"But I want to make sure we have the right person that killed that trooper," he said yesterday.

A critic of the proposal said DNA is a useful tool in many criminal proceedings but is not always available.

The measure also would create a 10-member commission to recommend ways to ensure those who are sentenced to death are guilty, that capital defendants receive adequate defense, that race does not play a role in handing down death sentences, that prosecutors use the death penalty uniformly and that appeal procedures work.

Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said it would be foolish to halt an otherwise proper execution to run a DNA test for a case built upon eyewitness testimony or the discovery of a dead body in someone’s trunk. The foundation is a California-based crime victims’ rights group that advocates for timely sentences and supports the death penalty.

"The whole world watches CSI and thinks every criminal case boils down to some forensics evidence, but there is no forensic evidence when they’re driving the victim’s car and pawning her jewelry," he said.

Missouri has regularly been among the top states nationally in the number of executions.

Deeken said he is not sure whether any of those who have been executed in Missouri were put to death wrongly, but the chance of executing an innocent person is too great a risk.

The state should "check and make sure that the person that it’s putting to death is the right person," he said.

A federal judge’s ruling already has effectively halted executions in Missouri. U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. ruled last year that the three-drug lethal injection protocol could subject condemned prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment and is thus unconstitutional.

Deeken, who filed a similar bill last session, has gained both Republican and Democratic support and expects the measure to at least get a hearing this year.

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