Death Penalty Moratorium Resolution

Death Penalty Moratorium Resolution

In March, 2007, members of Women’s Voices voted to endorse a resolution calling for a moratorium on death penalty executions in the state of Missouri. The resolution passed our membership without a single dissenting vote. Following is the text of the resolution, which was submitted to Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty and then forwarded to the governor and state legislators.

WHEREAS innocent people have been wrongfully convicted, sentenced to death, and executed in Missouri;

Several people in Missouri have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, and then subsequently released from their death sentences.

Individuals with credible claims of actual innocence supported by evidence and witness testimony have already been executed and others await execution despite problems, such as the ineffective assistance of defense counsel and the use of perjured testimony from jail-house informants.

The U.S. Supreme Court and Congress have drastically restricted the rights of death row prisoners to appeal their convictions and death sentences in federal courts, even in cases where prisoners present compelling evidence of innocence, increasing the risk that innocent people will be executed in Missouri.

WHEREAS the death penalty system in Missouri remains capricious and arbitrary;

Statistics indicate that race, poverty, gender and victim profiles are better predictors of the decision to seek the death penalty than are the details of the crime.

Prosecutors in Missouri have the ultimate power over life and death. They alone decide who will be charged with a capital crime subject to the death penalty, who will receive a plea deal for less than death, and who will escape prosecution altogether. Prosecuting Attorneys in each county have discretion over when to pursue a death sentence. This means where a crime happens is significant in determining who lives or dies.

When multiple defendants are accused of the same crime, some may be sentenced to death, some may receive a life in prison sentence, and some may receive a prison sentence and later be released.

WHEREAS there is ample evidence that the death penalty is applied in a racist manner;

According to a recent study of death sentencing in Missouri by Michael Lenza, a University of Missouri sociologist, entitled The Prevailing Injustice in the Application of the Death Penalty in Missouri (1978-1996), “Blacks accused of killing White victims were five times more likely to be charged with capital murder than Blacks accused of killing Black victims.” (p. 13)

State of Missouri Prosecuting Attorneys, who all happen to be Caucasian, “demonstrate a clear tendency to punish offenses against whites far more harshly than those crimes committed against non-whites.” (p. 22 Lenza study)

WHEREAS defendants in Missouri with incompetent legal representation have been sentenced to death and executed;

Some have had counsel without any capital trial experience, counsel who presented next to no defense, counsel who did not interview crucial potential witnesses, counsel who represented the defendant while under influence of drugs or alcohol, and counsel who were later disbarred.

Legitimate appeals are denied (procedurally barred) because of ineffective counsel’s failure to raise objections at trial and failure to file pleadings on time.

WHEREAS death sentences are reserved for the poor;

About 90% of those persons facing capital charges cannot afford their own attorney. As of January 2003 no court has found that any state, including Missouri, has met standards developed by the American Bar Association (ABA) for appointment, performance and compensation of counsel for indigent prisoners.

WHEREAS the State of Missouri now ranks 4th in the nation in the number of citizens executed, with only Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia having executed more people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976;

WHEREAS national polls have consistently shown majority support for a moratorium, over 2,600 groups nationwide have called for a moratorium on executions, including over 80 Missouri organizations and faith communities, and in 2004, 60% of Missourians polled said they would support a three-year moratorium on executions to investigate death penalty practices in Missouri;

Now fairness and justice demand a moratorium on executions until the well-documented problems within the Missouri Capital Punishment system can be thoroughly evaluated and addressed.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice calls on the Governor of Missouri and our Senators and Representatives in the General Assembly to take the necessary steps to impose a moratorium on executions at least until this state implements legislation, rules, policies and procedures which:

  • Ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially in accordance with basic constitutional guarantees such as the right to due process of law.
  • Guarantee competent legal representation to every capital defendant.
  • Eliminate the risks that innocent persons may be executed.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution shall be forwarded to the Governor of Missouri, Missouri Legislators, the President of the United States, and our legislators in Congress.