Sunday, 3 August 2008

Study needed for Missouri death penalty

Special to The Star

Amrine A particularly important anniversary took place at the end of July: the day the state of Missouri admitted it nearly put an innocent man to death for a crime he did not commit.

I remember it vividly because I was there: I was the man who might have lost his life to our death penalty system.

For 17 years, I sat on Missouri’s death row, hoping and praying the truth would eventually set me free.

The only “evidence” used to convict me was the testimony of three men. Even after all three admitted they had lied, it took years for me to be released.

After what felt like several lifetimes, Missouri set me free in July 2003.

Five years after my exoneration, I wonder if Missouri can promise that another innocent person won’t face that lethal needle.

The evidence says “no”; we can’t make the basic guarantee that an innocent person won’t be convicted and sentenced to death.

I am counted along with 129 others all across our country and three from Missouri who have been sentenced to death, then exonerated. There are seven others who were wrongfully convicted in Missouri for crimes which DNA evidence proves they did not commit.

The DNA era has taught us that mistakes happen. We know now that eye-witness testimony, jailhouse informants or “snitches,” and even confessions do not always result in a proper conviction.

But what have we done to ensure that these potentially deadly mistakes aren’t made?

Missouri has never had a thorough examination of our death penalty system. The state set me free, acknowledging an innocent man had been in prison awaiting execution for nearly two decades.

Five years have passed, and still no study has been done to guarantee that another person won’t be set to die for a crime he did not commit. This baffles and horrifies me.

I have joined the Moratorium Now! campaign, which has organized hundreds of individuals, organizations, businesses, and faith groups demanding we examine our death penalty system.

Moratorium Now! seeks to learn how the death penalty affects Missourians. We want answers to such basic questions as:

•Does the death penalty deter murder?

•Does the death penalty help or hurt victims’ families?

•What does the death penalty cost Missouri taxpayers?

I know personally how important it is that we have answers to these fundamental questions. But this is an issue that every Missourian can care about.

The state can always set the innocent free; bringing the dead back to life is outside its capacity.

Joe Amrine lives in Kansas City.

1 comment:

erinbrown82 said...


Your story is truly one of inspiration and conviction. We met several years ago when you came to Springfield, Missouri for a speakers tour with Amnesty International. The time that you spent with our youth was impacting and inspiring.

I continue to tell your story across the country. Please keep us posted on what we can do to support change in our system.

Erin Brown