Last Updated on May 21, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team
The death penalty has been active in Missouri state law since 1810. The first person to be sentenced to death was Peter Johnson, who was hanged for committing murder. Between 1810 and 1936 the primary method of execution in Missouri was hanging. These days, inmates on death row are offered the choice between lethal gas or lethal injection.
Since the reinstation of the death penalty in 1976 (after Furman v Georgia) 91 individuals have been executed in the state of Missouri. In this article we will look at the key facts relating to capital punishment in Missouri, the history of the death penalty in the state, and the processes of sentencing and appealing.
Key Facts Regarding the Death Penalty In Missouri:
- Missouri State Capitol: Jefferson City
- Region: Midwest
- Population: 5,988,927
- Murder Rate (per 100,000 population): 9.8
- Death Penalty: Yes
- Life Without Parole?: Yes
- Death penalty for a crime in which they were not responsible for the murder?: No
- Method of Execution: Choice of lethal injection or gas
- Sentencing: Jury
- Clemency Process: Granted by the Governor on advice of Board of Pardons and Paroles
- Executions Since 1976: 91 state executions, 3 federal executions
- Executions Before 1976: 285
- Current Death Row Population: 21
- Women on Death Row: 0
- Location of Death Row: Mineral Point (Women: Fulton)
- Location of Executions: Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre
- Number of Innocent Persons Freed From Death Row: 4
- Number of Clemencies Granted: 4
- Date of Reinstatement (following Furman v. Georgia): September 28, 1975
- First Execution Following Reinstatement: 1989
How The Death Penalty Works In Missouri:
In order for the death penalty to be passed in the state of Missouri the prosecution must prove to the jury that at least one Aggravating Circumstance was present in the case. The prosecution must prove this beyond reasonable doubt, and must convince the jury that the Aggravating Circumstances outweigh any Mitigating Circumstances presented by the defense team.
According to the Missouri General Assembly, there are a list of 17 possible aggravating circumstances that can be sited in the case of a murder trial in order for the prosecution to seek the death penalty.
Key Aggravating Circumstances In Missouri:
- The murderer has a prior murder conviction, or has previously been convicted of serious assault.
- The offender was engaged in the commission of (or attempted commission of) another murder at the time
- The offender intentionally put multiple lives in danger with the use of weapons known to be hazardous to many lives
- The offender murdered for money, or paid someone else to murder on their behalf
- The murderer acted as an agent or employee of another individual when committing the murder
- The murder involved cruel, inhuman acts of depravity such as torture, mutilation or decapitation
- The murder was committed whilst in custody or whilst escaped from custody, or whilst on parole
- The murder was committed in order to avoid arrest and lawful confinement
- The murder was committed alongside the felony of any degree of rape, kidnapping, sodomy, robbery, burglary, or any drug felony
- The murder of a witness in order to suppress testimony in an upcoming or on going trial
- The murder of a police officer, official or person working in the correctional facility or legal department whilst they were on duty, or in revenge for an act they performed whilst on duty.
- The murder of an individual during the hijacking of an airplane, ship, train, bus or other public conveyance
- The murder was committed with the intension of covering up a drug felony
- The murder was committed with the intension of suppressing a witness or testimony in relation to a drug felony
- The murder was committed in relation to street crime and gang crime
Sentencing The Death Penalty In Missouri:
After a person has been found guilty of first degree murder in Missouri, the sentencing process can begin. In order for the jury to recommend the death sentence they must unanimously agree that at least one Aggravating circumstance was proven beyond reasonable doubt during the trial.
If they unanimously agree, the jury can sentence the convicted party to death and the court must heed them. However, if they cannot come to a unanimous decision, the court can decide how best to sentence the convict. The judge may give a term of years, life without parole, or indeed the death penalty.
However, since the introduction of life without parole in 1984, the number of court decided death sentences has greatly reduced in favor of the lesser sentence.
Appealing The Death Penalty In Missouri:
All instances of the death penalty are eligible for appellate reviews, and no criminal is executed until all their appeal options have been exhausted. Clemency can only be granted by the State Governor, and only after they have been advised by the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Since its first introduction in 1810, there have been a total of 4 clemencies granted, and 4 individuals have been freed from death row having been found innocent.
Clemency Cases In Missouri:
One of the most famous clemency cases in the history of Missouri’s death row was that of Darrel Mease, who was sentenced to death for the murder of his drug partner, as well as his drug partner’s wife and grandson. The execution was scheduled to take place in 1999, and it was at this time that Pope John Paul II happened to be visiting the mIdwest.
When the Pope heard about the impending execution he personally appealed to the then Governor of Missouri on behalf of the convict. His plea for mercy was heeded, and the Governor reduced Mease’s sentence to life without parole just one day before he was set to be killed.
Pardon Cases In Missouri:
A total of 4 people have been exonerated and set free from death row in Missouri. One very famous case involved Joseph Amrine, who was an inmate at a Missouri prison convicted of burglary and robbery. In 1986, whilst serving his prison sentence, Amrine was accused of murdering a fellow inmate.
He was given the death sentence and transferred to death row on the basis of compelling testimonies given by fellow inmates who acted as witnesses for the prosecution. However, after appealing the decision, 6 of those inmates who testified against Amrine, admitted that they had lied in order to receive protection.
After DNA evidence came forward and other witnesses admitted to having seen Amrine playing cards at the time of the murder, Amrine was aquitted and set free.
Missouri And The Death Penalty:
Missouri has the second highest murder rate in the USA, with only Louisiana having a higher rate. An average of 9.8 murders take place per 100 thousand people in Missouri each year, with 12.4 per 100 K in Louisiana.
The state has an interesting relationship with the death penalty, having long periods with no instances followed by some years where it has given out more death sentences than any other state in America. Indeed, Missouri was the first state to carry out an execution during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Since the state’s reinstation of the death penalty in 1976, (following the U.S. Supreme court ruling that all U.S. State Death Penalty statues were cruel and unfair and should be re-examined), 91 death sentences have been carried out. The number of sentences given peaked in the 1980s, with over 15 death sentences given in 1987.
That number has steadily dropped since then, however, as there is a long delay between a sentence being given and the execution being carried out, the number of state executions peaked in 2014, when a total of 10 inmates were executed in Missouri. Missouri currently has the fifth highest execution rate in the USA, after Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Florida.