A coalition of Republicans and Democrats voted Tuesday to send a bill repealing Missouri's death penalty to the state Senate for debate.
The measure passed the Senate General Laws and Pensions Committee on a 4-3 vote with support from 2 Republicans and 2 Democrats. The measure will head to the full Senate, which has not debated a bill to repeal the death penalty in decades.
"The death penalty isn't going to change without discussion," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial. "It's important we keep discussion open and allow everyone to share their opinions in order to make a change."
The bill also had the support of the committee's chairman, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.
Also voting for the measure were the committee's 2 Democrats, Sen. Joe Keaveny of St. Louis and Sen. Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur. The other 3 Republicans on the committee - Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Maryville, Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, and Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan - voted against repealing the death penalty.
Before the vote, the committee heard from Joshua Kezer, who served 16 years in a state prison after being wrongly convicted of the 1992 murder of a Southeast Missouri State University nursing student in Scott County.
Kezer was sentenced to prison for 1st-degree murder, but Kezer's DNA was submitted to the FBI and was found to not be a match. Kezer was released from prison in 2009.
"I'm the last one to advocate for the life of a serial killer, woman killer, or child killer," Kezer said. "But when we are talking about the death penalty we aren't just talking about serial killers, men killers, or race killers. We are just talking about killers. Unfortunately we are also talking about innocent men and women. And because we are talking about that, even though it might be a small percentage, we have to address the death penalty."
Witnesses from the Missouri Sheriff's Association and the Missouri Police Chiefs Association both said they were against the bill.
There are currently 46 prisoners awaiting execution on death row in Missouri. The state executed 16 people in 2014 and 2015, more than a 1/4 of all executions nationwide in that period. The state has put 86 people to death since 1989, when executions resumed after a 24-year hiatus.
The last time the Senate debated whether Missouri should have the death penalty was in April 1974. If the bill passes, Missouri will join Illinois, New York, Iowa, and 17 other states that that do not have a death penalty.
Wieland acknowledged his bill still has a long way to go to win passage in the Republican-dominated General Assembly.
Source: Columbia Daily Tribune, January 28 2016