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Death penalty opponents tour state to call for moratorium

By Matt Sepic, KWMU

St. Louis – Opponents of capital punishment are taking their message across Missouri this week.

The group Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty is holding events in eight cities to call for a moratorium and official review of the system.

Executive Director Colleen Cunningham said speakers include both crime victims and people exonerated after being wrongly condemned.

"Joe Amrine spent 17 years on death row, and it was public outcry and a documentary that swept across Missouri that really generated the interest in his case that caused his exoneration," Cunningham said.

Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has said delaying executions would be an injustice to victims' families. Nixon was attorney general prior to becoming governor and has consistently supported capital punishment.

But at least one fellow supporter of the death penalty is joining abolitionists in their call for a moratorium.

State Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, has again filed legislation that would put executions on hold for two years while state officials conduct a review.

Deeken said some crimes are so heinous that death is the only acceptable punishment. But he said Missouri's capital punishment system has never been reviewed thoroughly, and there's a danger that an innocent person could be put to death.

"When the Catholic Conference hit me up to sponsor this bill, the first thing I told them was I am for the death penalty," Deeken said. "But then they explained to me what they wanted and I said I can go along with that,' because if you're going to put somebody to death, then we need to make sure we have the right person."

This year marks the third time Deeken has filed his moratorium proposal. He said he has not had enough votes in the House Public Safety Committee to bring the measure before the full House.

There has not been an execution in Missouri for more than three years because of unrelated litigation over the state's lethal injection procedure.

Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty began their road trip Sunday in St. Joseph. They'll end the tour Saturday in St. Louis with visits to the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church and First Unitarian Church at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.