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Death Penalty Petition Drive

February 26, 1996
By: Reece Rushing
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Rev. Larry Rice charged the governor and the attorney general with premeditated murder because of their continued use of the death penalty.

Although there is little hope they will stop, Rice said, the voters of Missouri might be persuaded.

Rice and others are beginning a drive to collect the near 100,000 signatures required to place an initiative on the November ballot that would outlaw capital punishment. If passed, the punishment for first degree murder would be, "imprisonment for life without eligibility for probation or parole, or release except by act of the governor." No one could be put to death.

"Anybody who believes in the death penalty believes in legalized murder," Rice said at a Monday press conference announcing the petition drive.

Rice acknowleged the death penalty's popularity among voters, but said once they heard stories of innocent people being put to death, they would change their minds. In fact, Rice said that until he really examined the issue a few years ago, he had supported the death penalty.

Beverly Sidebottom, whose son was executed for killing his grandmother, is joining Rice in the fight against capital punishment. Sidebottom said her son was innocent, but because she and her husband did not have the money for a quality attorney, he was doomed from the start.

"I can't afford O.J. Simpson's dream team," she said.

Patricia Basler, whose son Tim Story is on death row, had similar complaints about her son's representation. One person might commit an identical crime to another person, she said, yet get an entirely different sentence depending on the attorney.

When the death penalty is handed down, Basler said, all it does is create more victims.

"We love our children just as much as the parents of the victims love their children," she said.

The attorney general and the governor say they support the death penalty on behalf of the victims' families, Sidebottom said, but in her case, she lost two family members and received no support from Gov. Carnahan or Attorney General Jay Nixon. Instead, she said, they choose to ignore the true brutality of the death penalty.

"Why didn't the governor and Jay Nixon come down and see my boy's eyes close?" she asked, holding back tears.