Missouri has too many reasons for which prosecutors can pursue the death
penalty against murder suspects and needs to do a better job of preserving
forensic evidence such as DNA samples, according to a report being released
The report is the result of a 1-year study sponsored by the American Bar
Association that was conducted by a panel of law professors, private-sector
attorneys and federal judges who had been nominated to the bench by Republican
and Democratic presidents. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report
before it was to be publicly released later Thursday at a Capitol news
The study notes that Missouri has 17 "aggravating circumstances" that give
prosecutors wide discretion by which they can argue to jurors that someone
should be sentenced to death. One justification, for example, is that the
murder was "wantonly vile." The result is that the circumstances "are so
broadly drafted as to qualify virtually any intentional homicide as a death
penalty case," the report says.
The report recommends narrowing the law so that only the most serious murder
cases are eligible for the death penalty.
It also says Missouri should do a better job of preserving "biological
evidence" in death penalty cases for as long as the inmate remains behind bars.
In some cases, biological evidence that does not lead to a conviction has been
destroyed, leaving the inmate with little opportunity to pursue new tests if
The report is not entirely critical of Missouri's death penalty system. It
praises the state in at least five areas, including for maintaining what it
describes as an independent judiciary. Judges on Missouri's appellate courts
and urban trial courts are appointed by the governor after being nominated by
special panels while circuit judges in other areas run under partisan labels.
Missouri is the 10th state for which the American Bar Association has released
an analysis of its death penalty system, and additional studies are ongoing in
Texas and Virginia. Although Missouri has curtailed the number of executions
carried out in recent years, it ranks fifth nationally in executions since the
U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.
(source: Associated Press)