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Bill to abolish death penalty in Missouri presumed dead in the Missouri Senate

Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

A bill that would have abolished Missouri's death penalty has unofficially become the first bill to die during the 2016 legislative session.

Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, is Senate Bill 816's sponsor. He told reporters he knows there aren't enough votes in the Senate to abolish the death penalty, but calls Monday's debate on the floor a victory in itself.

"I was glad to see a lot of senators talking about (how) they felt about the bill," Wieland said. "As I said on the floor, everyone has a different conscience … just ask yourself the question: Is the way we're implementing (capital punishment) here in the state of Missouri good public policy?"

Less than an hour into Monday's debate, Wieland officially had the bill placed on the Senate's informal calendar, where bills that are hotly debated or blocked via filibuster often end up. Although bills can be removed from the informal calendar for further debate or passage, they often sit inactive until they die on the final day of the legislative session.

Wieland said that he has no plans to revive the bill because he knows there aren't enough votes to get it passed and because the Senate needs to spend time on other issues.

Several senators from both parties spoke in support of Wieland's bill. From Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph:

"We know for a fact that there are innocent people who have been convicted and executed. We know that that's true, and yet we continue just blindly moving forward. We know that there are people who receive inadequate legal representation ... This is a very good reason to think about whether or not we should have the death penalty."

From Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City:

"If you are African American, and you're the victim, and you're shot, and the person who shoots you is white, the likelihood of (him) going to death row is very slim. If you are African American and you kill someone who is white, nine times out of 10 you're going to be on death row ... that's inconsistent."

After Wieland laid the bill aside, fellow Republican Mike Parson of Bolivar took the floor and spoke in opposition to the death penalty abolition bill. Parson noted that all of the "debate" that took place up to that point was in support of the proposal.

"Mainly what I've heard up here is (that) it's almost as though we're talking about victims, but what we're really talking about is killers," Parson said.

Parson, a former county sheriff, spent several minutes recounting murder cases that took place in Missouri, which included double murders committed by Steven Ray Thacker, who was later executed in Tennessee for another murder.

Missouri Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar
Credit MoHorizonNews | Flickr

"There (are) cold-blooded killers out there," Parson said.  "I looked (Thacker) in the face, and I can tell you today that ... he would (have) hurt somebody, he would (have) killed somebody again if (we had) let him out."

Parson is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, also spoke against scrapping the death penalty.  The former prosecutor is seeking the Republican nomination for attorney general.

While Wieland's bill is for all practical purposes dead, there are two bills in the Missouri House that would abolish the death penalty, one sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican. House Bill 1402 is sponsored by Jeanie Kirkton, D-Webster Groves, and House Bill 2064 is sponsored by T.J. Berry, R-Kearney. Neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing, though.

On the opposite end of the debate are bills that would allow for more methods of execution and would speed up the execution process.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.