Moratorium on Executions in Missouri

Moratorium on Executions in Missouri

In mid-March individuals from throughout Missouri met at the State Capitol to advocate for a moratorium on executions in Missouri.  They were advocating for Death Penalty Commission, HB 1683, sponsored by Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City.  A Senate bill, SB 930, with similar language is sponsored by Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City).  These bills place a moratorium on all executions until January 1, 2013, and establish the Commission on the Death Penalty to study the use of the death penalty.

The commission would consist of 14 members, including two members of the Senate, two members of the House of Representatives, the State Public Defender or his/her designee, the Attorney General or his/her designee, a criminal defense attorney county prosecutor, a police chief, a person with law enforcement background, and representatives of the faith community, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, family member of a murder victim, and family member of a person on death row.

The commission would make recommendations for changes to the laws and court rules regarding death penalty cases to ensure that defendants who are sentenced to death are in fact guilty of first degree murder; that defendants are provided adequate and experienced counsel and adequate resources for the defense of their cases at trial and at the appellate and post-conviction states; that race, income, and other arbitrary factors do not play an impermissible role in determining which defendants are sentenced to death; that appellate and post-conviction procedures are adequate to correct errors and injustices occurring at the trial level, including access to evidence for forensic testing; and that prosecutors throughout the state seek the death penalty using similar criteria.

The commission would be required to issue a report of its findings to the Governor, General Assembly, and Missouri Supreme Court by January 1, 2013.

This summary prepared by the Missouri House of Representatives.

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The Death Penalty and Deterrence

The F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports Division Publication, “Crime in the U.S.” shows 2005 homicide rates in states which did not have the death penalty averaged 4.03 homicides per 100,000 population; states still using the death penalty averaged 5.87 homicides

A 1999 FBI study showed the 2004 per capita murder rate in Iowa was 1.6, while the per capita murder rate in Missouri was 6.2. Iowa has the lowest per capita murder rate of any of the eight states that are contiguous to Missouri, and is the only one that does not have the death penalty. (All of the other 7 states, except Nebraska had a per capita murder rate of 4.5 or higher.)

A 1995 Hart Research Poll of police chiefs of major cities found that they do not believe that the death penalty is an effective law enforcement tool. These police chiefs ranked the death penalty as dead last in the tools that are effective in reducing violent crime.

Missouri resumed executions in 1989. From 1989 to 1992, the Missouri homicide rate rose from 7.9 to 10.5 per 100,000 people; Missouri’s national homicide rate ranking rose from 19th to 13th.

After studying the statistics on the murder of police officials from 1989 to 1999, the FBI concluded that those states with the highest number of death penalty convictions and executions have the highest number of law enforcement officer murders. California had the highest and has the highest number of people sentenced to death. Texas had the second highest and has the highest rate of execution in death penalty cases. Florida is third and is the third highest number of people sentenced to death.

Texas, the state executing the most people from 1982 through the end of 1994, ranked among the top 10 homicidal states during each of those years. In all but two of the years, Texas was in the top four.

A 1984 study by Scott Decker and Carol Kohfeld, “An Empirical Analysis of the Effect of the Death Penalty in Missouri” concludes:

Perhaps no criminal sanction has received the empirical scrutiny that capital punishment has. But most previous analyses have been flawed by a variety of methodological deficiencies. Among other shortcomings, past studies have either used the wrong level of analysis, failed to include the relevant socio-demographic variables or neglected to examine this issue over a time series long enough to overcome the lag issue. In the current analysis a time series of 48 years for the State of Missouri was employed to assess the deterrent effect of executions. No deterrent effect could be determined from any of four analyses, graphed eras, difference of mean homicide rates for threat, use, and abolition periods, correlations, and a multivariate analysis. The implications of this research are unequivocal; those who support the use of the death penalty for Missouri do so solely on retributive grounds.


Studies over many years have found no credible evidence that the death penalty deters people from committing violent crimes. Deterrence based on the threat of punishment requires a criminal who is thinking rationally, and that describes almost no one who commits a capital murder. To the contrary, the fact that we use capital punishment sends a clear message that killing is accepted in our society as an appropriate response to wrongful conduct. The large majority of those who commit capital murders were seriously abused as children or in other ways feel victimized by society. The message sent by having a death penalty may lead such individuals to believe that violence is an appropriate response to their suffering. Some studies of deterrence actually point to this effect instead.

Information on deterrence taken from the website of Missourians Against the Death Penalty at


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