Death-penalty bill sparks heated debate on Senate floor

Wieland introduces bill to abolish death penalty

Paul Wieland

Paul Wieland

By Shannon Shaver

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill to eliminate the death penalty in Missouri brought on nearly two hours of debate in the Senate, with debate continuing even after the bill was set aside by the sponsor.

The bill’s sponsor — Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Jefferson County — began the Senate debate last week, citing his religion as among the reasons for his measure.

“The first reason is I’m a devout Catholic and I believe in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until natural death,” Wieland said. “And I find it inconsistent of me to be pro-life on one end of the spectrum and then to allow the death penalty to go without saying anything about it.”

For nearly one hour, Wieland held the Senate floor questioning colleagues who supported repeal of the death penalty.

“Sometimes people are wrongly accused and wrongly prosecuted and wrongly sent to jail,” said Sen. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County. “The other thing I don’t think it’s equitable across the board.”

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis agreed.

“I truly believe that, at the end of the day, it (the death penalty) doesn’t deter crime,” Nasheed said. “This is not a mechanism that will cause individuals to say ‘I don’t ever want to commit a murder again because I just saw Tony get the death penalty.’ We still see murders occur each and every day while individuals are on death row.”

But after nearly one hour of one-sided discussion, Wieland acknowledged that his bill would not pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature and he promptly put the bill aside.

“As Dirty Harry says, ‘a man has got to know his limitations,'” Wieland said.

But that did not stop opponents. After Wieland sat down, death-penalty supporters spent nearly a second hour voicing their side.

“The reality of it is, bad things happen and people have to be held accountable for it,” said Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar and a former county sheriff. “If there’s anything we do need to do in our society today is make people accountable when things happen that are wrong.”

Joining Parson against the bill was Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

“So this idea that somehow the victim in this whole thing is the defendant,” Schaefer said. “Who after this whole process was found guilty, and a jury determined that they warranted the death penalty. That that’s the victim in this scenario is outrageous.”