A local grass-roots organization wants Columbia residents to know its call for a death penalty study and moratorium will continue this session of the Missouri General Assembly.
Missourians for an Alternative to the Death Penalty rolled out its campaign today at the start of the 2010 legislative session with a news conference at First Baptist Church, 1112 E. Broadway. Organizers said more than 100 Columbia-area businesses, houses of worship and organizations have endorsed resolutions calling for a state study of the death penalty with a moratorium on executions while the study takes place.
Supporting the campaign are 23 houses of worship, 52 businesses and 28 groups and organizations.
“This signals and shows the legislature that the general public supports this type of policy,” said Jeff Stack, convener of Columbia’s chapter.
Last session, 40 percent of House members joined Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, in co-sponsoring House Bill 484, which would have satisfied the organization’s goal. A study measure was passed in the House by a margin of 127-31, but little support could be found for an execution moratorium. Deeken’s rewritten bill was debated on the Senate floor but was never voted on for final passage.
Deeken, who was not present for today’s news conference, will again be the lead sponsor on a similar bill that is yet to be filed, Stack said.
Stack said he is against the death penalty because of his moral beliefs, the possibility of wrongful convictions and the unknown cost of executions compared with the cost of a life sentence.
“I see it as a wise middle ground that all people can come to in this state,” Stack said. “We understand that people have different feelings on this issue. The common ground that we can all come together on is that no one wants to see people wrongfully convicted.”
Lorenzo Lawson of the Minority Men’s Network said he supports the campaign because of bad legal representation that occurs across the state. He said he believes in equal rights and representation regardless of color or creed, but he thinks that is not the case for every defendant. “If one innocent person is executed, it is extremely appalling as a citizen and to our organization,” Lawson said.
The Rev. John Baker of First Baptist Church echoed that, saying the death penalty is a social justice issue that rises above politics.
“The death penalty as now administered appears to be exercised often in unfair ways, with the burden of death falling on African-Americans disproportionately, with crimes against males punished by death more than crimes against females and the rich executed far less than the poor,” he said.