Missouri needs to do more to preserve evidence and prevent mistakes in police
lineups, said the co-chairman of a panel that studied the state's death penalty
laws and procedures.
Paul Litton, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri,
co-chaired the Missouri Death Penalty Assessment Team with Stephen Thaman,
co-director of the Center for International and Comparative Law at Saint Louis
University School of Law. The 8-member team also included U.S. District Judge
Nanette Laughrey of Columbia and Rodney Uphoff of Columbia, also a professor at
the MU School of Law.
Improvements in the handling of eyewitness identification, including jury
instructions on the limitations of that identification, as well as issues about
preserving evidence are among the reports recommendations, Litton said.
Missouri does not require, for example, that biological evidence be preserved
for as long as someone who is given a death sentence is incarcerated and
awaiting execution, the report said. That means there might be nothing to test
if new techniques are found.
The report did not consider whether the state should keep or abolish the death
penalty. The report was part of the American Bar Association's Death Penalty
Assessment Project. It is funded by the European Union but is an independent
report, a disclaimer said. Most European countries have abolished the death
"We really just tried to investigate the extent to which Missouri law and
procedures conform to ABA guidelines," Litton said.
Other findings include:
•Missouri has several areas of strength, including the defense help provided in
capital cases and fully accredited crime labs that "promote the accurate and
reliable analysis of forensic evidence."
•Laws on applying the death penalty should be amended so people with mental
impairments need not have been diagnosed before they turn 18 to qualify as
exempt from capital punishment.
•Better instructions to juries that let them know that life without parole
truly means a person will never be released.
•A longer period between the time a prosecutor is required to decide whether to
seek the death penalty and the actual trial. Currently, that can be as little
as 25 days.
Missouri resumed executions in 1989 after a hiatus of more than 20 years. Since
then, 68 people have been executed, including two from Boone County. Ralph
Davis was executed April 28, 1999, for the death of his wife, Susan Davis. Gary
Roll was executed Aug. 30, 2000, for the April 1993 slayings of 3 people during
a robbery for drugs and money.
There are 2 inmates from Boone County awaiting execution among the 46 people on
death row. Earl Ringo Jr. was convicted in the July 4, 1998, shooting of 2
people at the Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Columbia. Ernest Lee Johnson is facing
the death penalty for the slayings of 3 people on Feb. 12, 1994, at a Casey's
Although the report takes no position on the death penalty, Litton said he
believes there are good reasons to abolish it. The chances of an innocent
person being executed and uneven application are 2 of those reasons, he said.
"My own view is that, even for people who deserve it, the costs are too great.
There are both financial costs, and there are moral costs."
(source: Columbia Daily Tribune)