After years of silence on the issue, the Missouri Senate recently spent several hours debating whether to repeal the death penalty in Missouri. The debate brought out strong emotions on both sides, while helping shed some light on this complex issue.
Sponsored by Sen. Paul Wieland (R- Emperial), SB 816 would eliminate a death sentence as an option for first degree murder. Anyone who had previously received a death sentence would have their sentence changed to life without parole.
In bringing SB 816 up for discussion, Sen. Wieland said he was moved to sponsor the bill because he was a devout Catholic who felt he needed to be consistent in his pro-life beliefs to protect all human life, even those guilty of murder. Wieland also said that as a fiscal conservative, he was concerned about the cost of the death penalty. He also raised concern about executing an innocent person.
“All it would take is one mistake,” Wieland told the Senators. ” We’re not operating it at a zero percent margin of error”.
Sen. Gina Walsh (D-St. Louis) agreed, “Mistakes are made.” She admitted that this is a very emotional issue. Even though a family friend was murdered, she still opposes the death penalty because she too is guided by her Catholic faith on the issue. “I don’t think I could sit on a jury and give a death sentence.”
In defending the death penalty, Sen. Mike Parson (R-Boliver) noted that after being in law enforcement for over 20 years, he has seen brutal crimes and the devastation it brings to the families. “What we are really talking about is killers and there’s a part of it that is premeditated.”
Several senators also expressed torn feelings about the death penalty.
In the end Sen. Wieland laid his bill over without a vote. But the debate, as one Senator noted was “refreshing”. Unless people on both sides of the issue can begin a conversation, no progress will be made. Senator Wieland was grateful for the Senate discussion and is convinced that the issue is moving in the right direction.