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Local Prosecutors React to Death Penalty Study

Kevin Killeen
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St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) – A study claims Missouri’s death penalty law should be rewritten — to make it more difficult for the state to impose the ultimate punishment.

The two-year study by the American Bar Association argues that Missouri’s 17 aggravating circumstances that allow a prosecutor to seek the death penalty are too broad.

“I disagree with that completely,” said St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, “It’s not easy or even easier than in other states. It is the most difficult verdict to obtain.”

The report claimed that one of the aggravating circumstances — that a murder is “wantonly vile” — would allow almost any intentional homicide to qualify as a death penalty case.

McCulloch says some of the aggravating circumstances could be “tightened up,” because of overlapping issues, but he says “wantonly vile” needs to stay in the law.

“In cases that are wantonly vile and inhuman, these are cases in which it involves torture and depravity of min,” McCulloch said, “For example, I had one where the defendant assaulted his girlfriend, and not just assaulted her, but stabbed her 25 times, slashed her numerous other times, cut her throat and eviscerated her and then did the same thing to her two-year old daughter.”

mcculloch robert11 Local Prosecutors React to Death Penalty Study

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch (KMOX/file photo)

 

St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce says she has sought the death penalty “a handful” of times in her twelve years on the job, and she too believes that when a murder is part of a pattern of extreme violence, it deserves execution.

“I look for extreme violent criminal history where this person is very dangerous to society,” Joyce said, “And another thing I look at is the way in which the crime was committed. Was there torture and things of that nature?”

Joyce acknowledged that she is open to public discussion on the role of the death penalty in Missouri.

“I think it’s a good thing for Missourians on a regular basis to review how they feel about the death penalty and whether we want to continue to have this on the books in Missouri,” Joyce said.

Joyce was asked her position on the argument that the death penalty is a deterrent.

“The cases where I have sought the death penalty, I’m not sure that those individuals stopped and had any kind of thought about whether or not they were going to get the death penalty before they committed the crimes that they did.”

McCulloch agreed with some findings of the report — the ABA’s call for more funding for state crime labs. But he disagreed with the report’s finding that public defenders are overworked and underfunded. And McCulloch was pleased that the report does not call for a moratorium on the death penalty in Missouri.

“I think it’s a very important punishment in a limited set of cases,” McCulloch said, “And the legislature has thought that, and the Supreme Court have agreed with that.”

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