Senator David Sater’s Capitol Report for the Week of Feb. 15: Worst of the Worst Deserve the Ultimate Penalty

Worst of the Worst Deserve the Ultimate Penalty

This week marks the two-year anniversary since little Hailey Owens was kidnapped outside her home and then raped and murdered at a home in Springfield. That crime is a reminder of what unimaginable cruelty and evil some people in our society are capable of. Unfortunately, cases like Hailey’s play out all over the country all too often. As we look back at Hailey’s case and so many other heinous crimes that have been committed against our neighbors and fellow citizens, it is an appropriate time to revisit the issue of the death penalty and its use as a necessary and fair punishment.

The death penalty is one of the most hotly debated and emotionally charged issues this country has faced over the last half-century. This debate usually takes the form of hypothetical arguments and a long list of what-ifs. The problem with these debates over the death penalty is that they miss the most important point: the victims. There have been 1,427 executions since 1976 and a conservative estimate of the victims of those murderers exceeds 2,000. That’s 2,000 people who will never spend another moment with their children, will never know their grandchildren, and will never have another chance to hold their spouse in their arms. They were violently ripped from this world while their families were left to cope with the horrible crime committed against their loved one. At the same time, their murderers spent decades eating three square meals a day, receiving free healthcare, and reading and writing their days away.

Is that fair? Is that justice? Is it justice for a victim’s family to never receive closure? Is it fair for a criminal, guilty of the most heinous acts one can commit, to live out their days while the victim’s life is literally taken and their families’ lives are figuratively taken?

Last week, the Missouri Senate debated a bill, Senate Bill 816, which would repeal Missouri’s death penalty. Proponents of the bill started out by arguing that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent and cited studies to try to back it up. But, they failed to recognize a few important points. Given that one in six of the people sentenced to death in the last 35 years have actually been executed, no studies properly looked at whether the fact so few are actually executed reduces the deterrent effect. Furthermore, the death penalty is a 100 percent effective deterrent when actually carried out. That criminal will never take another life. That may sound tough but what should we tell the family of Boris Naumoff of California. His killer, Robert Massie, previously murdered a mother of two during a follow-home robbery. Hours before execution, a stay was issued so Massie could testify against his accomplice. Massie’s sentence was commuted to life when the Supreme Court halted executions in 1972. Receiving an undeserved second chance, Massie was paroled and eight months later robbed and murdered Naumoff.

Proponents then argued that public opinion is shifting and that Americans are turning against the death penalty. Their claims are just flat-out wrong. Even with an energetic public campaign and the media and pundits aiding efforts, an October 2011 Gallup poll showed that 61 percent of Americans still support the death penalty, while a 2003 Zogby poll found that over 66 percent of Missourians supported the death penalty. In a country as divided as ours, 60 percent support of the death penalty is about as solid as it gets.

We can have a worthwhile conversation about how the death penalty is applied or whether it is an effective deterrent, but this is not what opponents of the death penalty are seeking. They want a wholesale repeal and ban that ignores the nature and motivation of these terrible crimes and that ignores what these criminals did to their victims and what is still happening to their families. To put this issue in perspective, it’s estimated that there are over 14,000 murders a year, while only 28 convicted murderers were executed last year. This proves that the death penalty is truly for the worst of the worst. The people of Missouri and the 29th District have continually voiced their strong support of the death penalty and I took that voice to the Senate floor last week as I spoke out against SB 816 and, along with my colleagues, ensured that it will not become law this year. We owe it to Hailey Owens and the thousands of victims and their families to stand our ground.

As always, I welcome your ideas, questions and concerns about Missouri government. You may contact me at the State Capitol as follows: (573) 751-1480, or by writing to Sen. David Sater, Missouri State Capitol, Room 419, Jefferson City, MO 65101.