JEFFERSON CITY - A coalition of Republicans and Democrats voted Tuesday to send a bill to repeal the death penalty in Missouri to the state Senate for debate.
The measure passed the Senate General Laws and Pensions Committee on a 4-3 vote with support from two Republicans and two Democrats. The measure now heads to the Senate that has not had debate on a death-penalty repeal bill in decades.
The bill's GOP sponsor – Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Jefferson County – described the future of his measure in terms of a discussion in the Republican-dominated Senate.
“The death penalty isn't going to change without discussion. It's important we keep discussion open and allow everyone to share their opinions in order to make a change,” Wieland said.
The bill also had the support of the committee's chairman, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.
Also voting for the measure were the committee's two Democrats, Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis City, and Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County. The other three Republicans on the committee voted against repealing the death penalty. They are Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Maryville, Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles County and Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County.
Prior to the vote the committee heard from Joshua Kezer, who served 16 years in a state prison after being wrongly convicted of the 1992 murder in Scott County of a Southeast Missouri State University nursing student.
He was sentenced to prison for second-degree murder. Kezer's DNA was submitted to the FBI for testing and was found to not be a match before he was convicted. Kezer was released from prison in 2009.
“I'm the last one to advocate for the life of a serial killer, woman killer, or child killer,” Kezer said. “But when we are talking about the death penalty we aren't just talking about serial killers, men killers, or race killers. We are just talking about killers. Unfortunately, we are also talking about innocent men and women. And because we are talking about that, even though it might be a small percentage, we have to address the death penalty.”
Witness's from the Missouri Sheriff's Association and the Missouri Police Chiefs Association both said they were against the bill.The last time the Senate debated whether Missouri should have the death penalty was in April 1974. If the bill passes, Missouri will join Illinois, New York, Iowa, and 17 other states that that do not have a death penalty.
Wieland acknowledged his bill still has a long way to go before a Senate debate.
"The death penalty isn't going to change without discussion," Wieland said. "It's important we keep discussion open and allow everyone to share their opinions in order to make a change."