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Missouri Supreme Court Imposes Unofficial Moratorium on Death Penalty

October 25, 2004
By: Katheryn Mohr
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The end of October will mark the one-year anniversary of what quitely may be a death penalty moritorium being imposed by the Missouri Supreme Court.

On Oct. 29 it will have been a year since any executions have been fulfilled in this state -- the longest period without an execution since 1989.

During the past 30 months, the state attorney general's office has filed five motions to set execution dates. None of which have been acted upon.

Scott Holste, the attorney general's chief spokesman, said that all of these inmates' appeals have been exhausted months ago.

The five inmates awaiting execution are Brian Kinder, Marlin Gray, Donald Hall, Vernon Brown and Timothy Johnston.

The oldest motion request involves inmate Vernon Brown and dates back to Feb. 2002. The most recent request pending was filed for inmate Marlin Gray on June 2003.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson Count, said that he thinks that Missouri Supreme Court has neglected to set execution dates for these inmates because some of the supreme court justices currently serving are in opposition to the death penalty.

"There is no legal reason why these execution dates have not been set," Bartle said.

"My sense is that there are supreme court justices that have philosophical opposition to the death penalty and they are standing in the way of getting these executions set."

Bartle said that it is a scary scenerio when a handful of judges believe that they have a better idea of what the law should be than the people who voted to enact the law.

"The people of the state of Missouri through the legislature and the governor voted to pass the death penalty and here we have a small number of supreme court justices who are in effect deciding what the law should be," Bartle said.

"When you have a small group of unelected people imposing their views on the people of this state that is anti-Democratic."

Greene County Prosecutor Darrel Moore agreed with Bartle's criticism.

Moore, who prosecuted Donald Hall, said that typically in death penalty cases the Missouri Supreme Court would issue warrants of execution after all the appeals have been exhausted.

"Of course, attorneys can still pursue last minute appeals, but that does not effect the issuing of the warrants of exectution," Moore said.

"Here we have not had any warrants issued and that is a-typical."

Moore says what concerns him is that there are elected representatives in the Missouri legislature who have refused to pass any bills enstating an official moratorium on the death penalty.

"So, now we are dealing with judicial actions that are supplanting the will of the people as expressed in the legislature," Moore said.

"And I think there is something wrong with that."

Holste, the attorney general's spokesman, said that there is no reason why these inmates have yet to be executed.

"These inmates have exhausted all the appeals available to them and the Attorney General's Office will do whatever it can to preempt any further litigation pursued by these inmates," Holste said.

Frederick Duchardt, who is representing Brian Kinder, said that he doesn't know why the attorney general's office has filed a motion to set an execution date for his client because Kinder still has litigation pending.

Moore said he did not think that the attorney general's office has acted in a premature fashion by filing these motions to set execution dates.

"It appears to me that the attorney general's office is on top of this and why in the world Hall's execution has not been fulfilled is beyond me," Moore said.

"I can't think that there is a good reason in this world why the attorney general's office is pushing to set an execution date for Kinder," Duchardt said.

Moore said that he knew for sure that there was no pending litigation in his case. He said his case had reached an ending point and it is time for justice to be done.

"This man is no poster child for any judicial relief," Moore said. "And here we are twelve years after the murder and Hall has yet to be executed," Moore said.

Beth Riggert, communications counsel for the Missouri Supreme Court, said, "the court will rule on these motions when it deems it appropriate."