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Death penalty bills going on in Jefferson City

March 07, 2001
By: Maria del Mar Grandio
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Gov. Bob Holden will have to face another execution at midnight Tuesday.

Barring any last minute reprieves from the governor, Antonio Richardson will be executed in Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri. Richardson, convicted in the April 1991 deaths of Julie and Robin Kerry, will be the second execution since Holden took office in January.

Richardson was 16 at the time of the crime and his attorneys argue that he is mentally retarded.

As in the past, death penalty opponents plan a protest in front of the governor's mansion at the time of the scheduled execution. Rita Lindahardt from the Missouri Catholic Conference said public opinion in America is starting to change.

"Especially, people are very aware when they discover one innocent has been put to death," Lindhardt said.

Meanwhile, a Columbia legislator has filed legislation to stop executions in Missouri.

Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, introduced a bill to ban death penalty. Wilson concedes the bill likely will not win legislative approval. But Wilson said she hoped the the bill would get "people to be engaged in discussing the problem."

The legislation will have strong opposition.

Lawmakers have introduced two other bills dealing with the death penalty. One proposal would prohibit the use of the death penalty for persons who are found to be mentally retarded. The condition must be documented before the person is 18. The other bill would set a two-year moratorium. The bill would stop executions in order to promote discussion about possible alternatives to the death penalty.

Similar bills have failed in past years.

"I will vote against the moratorium because I think Missouri public support the death-penalty," said Rep. Jon Dolan R-St. Louis. "There are many opportunities to say if one person is guilty or innocent in the trial."

Still, supporters of the anti-death penalty legislation say the time has come for a change.

"When you explain to the population the alternatives to the death penalty, public opinion can change," said Rep. Christopher Liese, D-Maryland Heights, sponsor of the legislation.

Liese, a Catholic, said he changed his earlier support for the death penalty after the Pope's visit to St. Louis in 1999. Gov. Mel Carnahan spared the life of convicted killer Darrell Mease after John Paul II personally asked Carhanan to show mercy for Mease.

"I think people in United States support the death penalty because of the culture of violence," Liese said. "However, violence always brings more violence."