The state of Missouri has been thrust into the national spotlight for policies
regarding the use of the death penalty – and more specifically its
frequent and rapidly increasing use.
In the past six months, six Missouri inmates have been executed by the state, raising questions and debate among legal experts, civil rights leaders,
and everyday citizens throughout the country over the use of capital punishment.
The most recent execution took place this past Wednesday, April 23 when
William Rousan was executed for the murders of a 62-year-old woman and
her 67-year-old husband in Southeast Missouri in 1993. Rousan was the
sixth Missouri inmate to be executed since November, 2013. Prior to November,
the latest execution took place in February, 2011. Missouri is now tied
with Texas and Florida for the most executions in 2014 so far.
On the eve of Rousan's execution, anti-death penalty groups held 10
vigils throughout the state. One member from the anti-death penalty group
Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty stated that the vigils
were meant to show that there is "not universal acceptance of this
policy of killing human beings." Roman Catholic bishops in Missouri
also released a statement on Good Friday calling for an end to the state's
A Divisive Subject
In recent months, the debate over Missouri's death penalty has peaked,
including objections from death penalty opponents and Rousan's legal
team regarding the secrecy of chemicals used for lethal injections. Similar
debates have taken place in other states. Earlier this week, the state
of Oklahoma halted two executions after questions surfaced regarding the
state's secretive laws concerning lethal injection chemicals. Lawyers
are questioning why states are refusing to reveal the source of chemicals.
The death penalty issue is one that involves profound and divisive issues
that ultimately boil down to the state's ability to take human life.
While this question is one that will likely remain a dividing issue for
people throughout the country, additional legal questions about the chemicals
being used, whether or not they constitute cruel and unusual punishment,
and whether or not inmates have a right to know what they are being injected
with have also been raised. These questions may have more immediate answers.
For now, the death penalty issue seems to be one that will continue to
cause controversy, just as it has for many years. By promoting a democratic
conversation about other issues, however, advocates and lawmakers will
be able to use the law to challenge current standards and possibly effectuate
change. Whether change will come – and when it will come –
is still up in the air.