Heartfelt, emotional debate precedes approval in the House of studying Missouri’s use of the death penalty, though the body rejects a moratorium on executions.
Talk about the death penalty becomes more urgent with Dennis Skillicorn scheduled to die May 20th and Kenneth Baumruk’s execution scheduled for August 7th. It turns personal when Representative Tim Jones of Eureka recalls learning of the murder of his aunt in early December of 1991. He told a hushed chamber that his mother answered the phone in tears.
“I asked her to tell me it wasn’t true,” Jones said, “She said ‘Tim, I’m sorry, your uncle is OK, he’s with your dad, but Aunt Pam has been murdered.”
His Aunt Pam was the wife of Rep. Kenny Jones (R-California), killed along with three others by James Johnson, who was executed in 2002. That violent night played a large role in the debate on the House floor. Rep. Kenny Jones offered the amendment that authorized a study of how Missouri administers the death penalty, but stripped the language that would have imposed a two-year moratorium on executions.
Rep. Tim Jones read the names of the victims of Johnson’s violent rampage. Along with his aunt, Moniteau County Deputy Les Roark, Cooper County Sheriff Charles Smith and Miller County Deputy Sandra Wilson died. Johnson was executed on January 9th, 2002. Jones said that it wasn’t until that execution, ten years later, that his family got to experience some small piece of justice and some small piece of closure.
Sponsor of the death penalty moratorium bill, Rep. Bill Deeken (R-Jefferson City) said he understands the sentiment surrounding that violent night, but insists that Missouri must make sure it has confidence justice is served when it executes someone.
“Do a study and make sure that in cases where we don’t know as well as we did in California, Missouri that night, that the person is guilty, that we do have a commission that can study this and find out and make sure that we are not putting someone to death that is not guilty,” Deeken said, wrapping up House floor debate.
Missouri has not had an execution since the execution of Marlin Gray on October 26, 2005. Deeken said Missouri is 5th among the states in the number of executions, 66, since 1989. He said that since 1973, 131 men and women under the death sentence have been set freed from prisons in the United States, three from Missouri. The commission would be required to file its findings with the governor, the legislature and the Supreme Court by the beginning of 2012.