Joplin Globe: Opponents of death penalty make case in Jefferson City

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Jimmy Castetter said he will never forget every moment of March 17, 2015.

That was the day that Cecil Clayton — the man found guilty of murdering his younger brother, Chris Castetter — was executed.

Now, almost a year later, Jimmy Castetter can tell you what he wore that day, how many checkpoints there were at the state prison in Bonne Terre, even the food served in its waiting room.

Judy Glaze is the same way. The mother of Jimmy and Chris Castetter remembers sitting in her Seligman living room with two of her grandchildren that day, repeatedly checking the clock. On that day, Clayton was still hoping for a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, his advocates arguing that he was incompetent because he was missing part of his brain following a 1972 sawmill accident.

The courts have upheld prohibitions against the execution of those who are intellectually disabled.

Clayton, friends and family said, had been a peaceful man, a pastor, a man who visited nursing home patients, until that accident, which led to the removal of 20 percent of his frontal lobe. After that, he grew increasingly paranoid, broke up with his wife, was prone to violent outbursts, and was unable to work.

But the Supreme Court denied the stay.

Glaze said she knew Clayton’s ex-wife and children and she didn’t feel comfortable witnessing Clayton’s execution.

Jimmy Castetter also is sympathetic to Clayton’s family, calling them “innocent ones in the situation.”

But both Castetter and Glaze believe Clayton deserved to die.

They and others in the family had been waiting for that day for nearly 19 years.

On Nov. 27, 1996, Clayton shot Chris Castetter, a 29-year-old Barry County sheriff’s deputy, at point-blank range while Castetter was in his squad car waiting for back up. Castetter had been dispatched to a farm south of Cassville in response to a report of a domestic disturbance made from Clayton’s girlfriend’s house. Castetter lived for a day more and then died in the early hours after Thanksgiving.

Clayton was eventually convicted and sentenced to death, but his advocates continued to argue that even though he had pulled the trigger, he didn’t deserve to die.

“There is a little stress and you wonder everyday if I would live long enough to see if your son’s killer would be put to death,” said Glaze, now 72.

On March 17, 2015, Clayton was executed by lethal injection. The curtains opened and Jimmy Castetter said he saw Clayton on a gurney, covered below his shoulders with a white sheet. He watched as Clayton’s chest lifted, up and down, slowed, then stopped.

Clayton was dead. Castetter said he felt relief.

Death penalty debate

According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, Missouri’s Capital Murder Law has been in effect since 1977, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to reestablish the death penalty. More than 80 people have been executed since then, the last execution taking place last fall.

But now, a coalition of lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, are pushing for Missouri to repeal its death penalty. A Senate bill, which recently passed out of committee on a 4-3 vote, found support on both sides on the floor, though not along party lines. It was the first floor debate on the merits of the death penalty in years.

Republican Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, sponsor of the bill, teamed up with Republican Sens. Rob Schaaf and Jamilah Nasheed, both of the St. Louis area, and Democratic Sens. Jill Schupp and Gina Walsh, also of the St. Louis area, to make their case for repealing the death penalty.

Each is coming at their opposition from different perspectives.

Wieland said he has four objections to the death penalty. As a Catholic, he believes the death penalty is inconsistent with the church’s teaching that all life is sacred. Second, he said that as a fiscal conservative he thinks the implementation of the death penalty is an ineffective use of tax dollars. He also doesn’t believe the death penalty deters crime, especially given the long periods that transpire between sentencing and execution. And finally, he argued, lethal injection is inherently unfair.

“Some of us are going to suffer with cancer, with other debilitating diseases, some of us are going to fall asleep and not wake up,” Wieland said. “To me, that seems like the easiest way to go out of this world. To me, the people that commit these most heinous crimes, that is what they are giving them, the most easy way to get out of this world.”

Schupp said too many people have been sentenced to death and later exonerated for her to feel comfortable with its use. Since 1973, 156 people on death row across the nation have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Three of those were Missouri inmates.

“Yes, we want our revenge, we want to punish,” Schupp said. “But what happens when one, just one person who is innocent of a crime — because some information is incorrect and because juries are given some evidence and not all of the evidence — what happens when an innocent person is sent to death row and then killed? How much is that innocent life worth?”

Nasheed believes use of the death penalty still reflects racial bias, noting a 2015 study by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that homicides involving white victims were seven times more likely to result in executions than those involving black victims. And cases involving white female victims were 14 times more likely to result in execution than those involving black male victims. The disparity was such that it “may erode judicial and public confidence in the state’s ability to fairly administer the ultimate punishment,” the authors concluded.

Schaaf said the arbitrariness of the justice system, especially when it comes to the death penalty, helped change his mind about the death penalty.

Death penalty supporters

But the coalition is bumping against others in the Senate who have equally strong beliefs in favor of the death penalty.

Republican Sens. Mike Parson, David Sater, Ed Emery and Kurt Schaefer were vocal opponents of the bill.

Sater, R-Cassville, represents Judy Glaze’s district.

Sater last week said he is a believer in the death penalty because it provides closure for victims’ families. Sater also helped the Castetter family erect a highway sign in honor of Chris during his days in the Missouri House of Representatives.

“If you have done something so horrible, you do not deserve to be alive,” Sater said.

Parson, R-Bolivar, said only those who have committed premeditated acts of violence should get the death penalty, and he said it should be reserved for only the most brutal of murders. He is running for lieutenant governor.

As a former sheriff, Parson said he also believes the use of the death penalty will bring justice to victims.

Parson also said that sometimes those on death row are portrayed as victims of the state.

“What we are really talking about is killers,” he added.

Schaefer, R-Columbia, said that as a former prosecutor he knows how many hoops a court must jump through before a criminal can be executed. He is running for Missouri attorney general.

Both he and Emery, R-Lamar, said the punishment must be equal to the crime.

“If we say anything less than a life is equal to a life, we have devalued life,” Emery argued.

Though the repeal of the death penalty has gathered unprecedented support in the Senate, bill sponsor Wieland said he didn’t put the bill up to a floor vote and that just having the conversation was important.

In the House, a bill sponsored by six Republicans and four Democrats has been introduced to repeal the death penalty, as well. One of the sponsors is Bill Lant, R-Pineville.

However, another Southwest Missouri lawmaker, state Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, wants to expedite the use of the death penalty. His bill would have the Missouri Supreme Court review death penalty cases within 30 days and require an execution date to be set within 60 days.

‘Hard to lose someone’

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, a decreasing majority of Americans favor the death penalty. In 2014, 56 percent of Americans supported the death penalty, which is 6 percent less than in 2011. In 1996, 78 percent of Americans favored the death penalty.

For Glaze, the question of the death penalty is personal in a way most people will never understand.

Now, a year after Clayton’s execution and 20 years after her son’s death, she said she still can’t help but cry.

“They have to walk in your shoes until they can understand,” Glaze said. “It’s hard. It’s hard to lose someone.”

No death penalty

Nineteen states do not have the death penalty, and many, including Missouri neighbors Illinois and Nebraska, have abolished it in recent years, citing costs, the difficulty of getting drugs used in lethal injection, the exoneration of people on death row and other concerns.

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