Recent Missouri editorials

By

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2

Pull the plug on Missouri's killing machine:

Before Clayton Lockett, there was Emmitt Foster.

On April 29, the state of Oklahoma botched the execution of Mr. Lockett, who had shot a woman and buried her alive. The state's three-drug cocktail of death didn't do its job. As Mr. Lockett lay writhing in pain, Oklahoma's director of the Department of Corrections halted the execution. It was too late. Mr. Lockett had a heart attack and died.

Tulsa World reporter Zeva Branstetter, who was there as a witness for the state, wrote a harrowing account of the tragic mishap.

"Lockett kicks his right leg and his head rolls to the side. He mumbles something we can't understand," she wrote. "Lockett is grimacing, grunting and lifting his head and shoulders entirely up from the gurney. He begins rolling his head from side to side. He again mumbles something we can't understand, except for the word 'man.' He lifts his head and shoulders off the gurney several times, as if he's trying to sit up. He appears to be in pain."

No such account could be written when Mr. Foster was put to death in a similarly botched execution in Missouri in 1995.

In the case of Mr. Foster, who killed a softball teammate in a 1983 robbery in St. Louis County, state officials closed the blinds when the similar three-drug cocktail failed to work properly. His death took about 30 minutes. At least one witness refused to sign the routine statement that she had witnessed the execution.

It was in many ways the perfect metaphor for the death penalty in Missouri. Elected officials work very hard to keep the grisly details behind a dark curtain.

The reality is that as long as the death penalty has been around in the U.S., there have been botched executions.

Lawsuits filed after Mr. Foster's case contributed to changes in Missouri's protocol. The state now just uses one drug in its lethal injections, pentobarbital.

But in so many ways, Missouri is just like Oklahoma, relying on a system of state-sanctioned killing that is fraught with peril and shrouded in secrecy. It is a policy that, particularly in cases such as the tortuous killing of Mr. Lockett, dehumanizes all of us. The Washington Post on Thursday pointed to 21 cases of botched executions since lethal injection became the standard method of execution in the U.S.

Since 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court halted executions after its ruling in Furman vs. Georgia, states like Missouri have altered their methods of killing over and over again, trying to find that right balance that gets the job done without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment.

The way Mr. Lockett died would undoubtedly violate our nation's constitutional protections, and that's why Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, had no choice but to order a review of death penalty procedures in her state.

Here in Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, should do the same thing.

Sadly, we don't think he'll have the courage to do so.

In the past year, Mr. Nixon has been in a rush to kill.

So determined has he been to enable the state to inflict the ultimate punishment that in two cases now, the state has put killers to death before the federal court review process has even been completed. In one of those cases, federal appeals Judge Kermit E. Bye of Fargo, N.D., blasted the Show-Me State's rush to kill, criticizing its history of scheduling executions before appeals are exhausted, "using unwritten execution protocols," ''using shadow pharmacies hidden behind the hangman's hood," and other failings.

This editorial page has long opposed the use of capital punishment in all cases as a dehumanizing practice that is beneath a civilized society. Most of the rest of the free world agrees. According to Amnesty International, the U.S. sends more prisoners to their deaths than any countries except for China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Some company, eh, Mr. Nixon?

And yet, public polling still shows a majority of Americans (though a decreasing one) support using the ultimate punishment in cases such as those involving Mr. Foster, or Mr. Lockett.

Those philosophical differences aside, there ought to be a way for Americans to agree that if the death penalty is going to exist in a country that values individual rights, then there ought to be guarantees that it is administered fairly.

The bulk of the evidence shows those protections are not in place, in Missouri or elsewhere.

A 2012 report by the American Bar Association and a panel of legal experts in the state, including federal judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. and St. Louis University Law School professor Stephen Thaman, concluded that there were numerous problems with how the death penalty was being administered in the state, from evidence collection, to prosecutorial misconduct, to secrecy surrounding the clemency process.

Now the SLU Law School is undertaking yet another study of specific death penalty cases in Missouri to see if the ultimate punishment has been applied fairly. Evidence suggests that report will find what experts found in Illinois before that state first put a hold on death penalty cases and then got rid of it altogether: The death penalty is applied arbitrarily. There is too high of a likelihood that an innocent person could be put to death.

There is time before Missouri's next execution for the governor, for Attorney General Chris Koster, or for the Missouri Supreme Court to intervene, to apply the brakes to the state's killing machine, and to suggest a thoughtful review to assure the citizens of the state that they aren't partners to unconstitutional and immoral acts.

Somebody with courage at the state's highest levels of government must see what panels of experts have laid out before them.

If the curtain is pulled up on the state's full death penalty apparatus, witnesses will be repulsed and they will pull the plug.

___

Springfield News-Leader, April 30

Hammons era comes to end:

Springfield is experiencing the end of an era — led by a power couple who gave the city economic development, arts, sports and even fountains.

Juanita Kathleen (Baxter) Hammons died April 29 at the age of 96, nearly one year after her husband, John Q. Hammons, died on May 26, 2013.

Together, this couple put their energies and their love into Springfield. The name Hammons is ubiquitous in the city, etched in the facades of buildings, sports arenas, on street signs and in front of decorative water fountains on three area college campuses.

Juanita K. Hammons is a name that is on the lips of every music lover, fan of live theater, Broadway aficionado or anyone who has been inside the beautiful curved glass facade of the Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts on the Missouri State University campus in Springfield.

Juanita Hammons spent the last six years in a nursing home, eventually trapped by Alzheimer's, as her husband continued to operate his successful hotel business and influence the face of the city.

At one time, however, she was a common sight on the arm of her husband of 64 years — a lovely, dark-haired woman with style and grace, who was comfortable among the rich and powerful as well as the everyday people of her adopted city.

She came from the tiny community of Marionville, where she grew up on a farm and later taught school.

While her husband worked long hours and traveled many miles to become one of the most successful businessmen in the community, for years she continued to teach, later in the second grade at McDaniel School in Springfield.

Although she did not play an active role in her husband's business, Juanita Hammons was an equal partner in their desire to support the arts, education, sports and health care.

She served on boards, committees and auxiliaries, and generously shared her time, money and even her husband with the community.

The couple, who married in their 30s, had no children, so there is no direct heir to their fortune or their legacy.

But Springfield will long remember John Q. and Juanita K. Hammons.

Their legacy is now ours to cherish.

___

The Kansas City Star, May 6

Banning smoking in public housing:

The smoking ban for property overseen by the Kansas City Housing Authority board makes very good sense — up to a point.

When the policy takes effect July 1, it will prohibit people from smoking indoors. That will have positive health effects on residents living in the authority's 1,700 units. That includes young children, who are adversely affected by the adults who light up around them.

Housing authority executive director Edwin Lowndes makes a compelling point when he says, "I have to provide a healthy environment for all my families to live in."

In addition, smoking bans have been shown to lead to lower rates of cigarette use. That's a crucial potential financial savings for people who live in subsidized housing.

The authority's policy thus is aimed in the right directions of protecting the health of residents and lowering the amount they spend on a harmful habit, leaving more funds for food and other necessary expenses.

However, the proposed ban on smoking on outdoor grounds controlled by the authority goes too far. We'd prefer to see the agency bend a bit — as it has said would be possible — and set aside designated areas where residents can go outside for a smoke.

That would help promote acceptance among residents of the indoor smoking rule.

Critics claim residents should be able to smoke "in their own homes." But the units are owned by the authority, which, as the landlord, sets the rules.

In this case, the authority's actions promote positive ways to help residents stay healthier and better able financially to pay the rent. Tweaking the policy to allow smoking outdoors, away from entrances to the units, would be a smart move as well.

___

Columbia Daily Tribune, May 1

Kim Anderson, from Mule to Tiger:

Kim Anderson will assume the job as head University of Missouri basketball coach with odds against him on paper but a wave of popular sentiment behind him.

Given the current gloom surrounding the program, popular sentiment is no small factor.

Anderson was a popular player and coach during the Norm Stewart days and has had great success coaching the Mules at NCAA Division II Central Missouri University in Warrensburg, but chilly relations between Stewart and MU Athletic Director Mike Alden seemed to keep Anderson on the outs. He was passed over three times when MU changed coaches. One wondered whether he would ever have a chance under Alden.

Let us not put the entire onus on Alden. An athletic director of a Division I team playing in major college athletic conferences might be expected to shoot for the moon, and indeed in past searches well-known Division I prospects were interested, including Bill Self, who now coaches the University of Kansas to perennial success.

But now MU basketball is languishing. The last three Alden hires have not panned out as well as hoped, culminating with Frank Haith, who jumped to Tulsa after his teams kept losing ground and another difficult season loomed. Mizzou is in a rebuilding mode, having lost its reputation as a destination for top players and coaches.

Anderson has a great chance to help put the ship back on course, particularly since he is sure to enjoy at least several seasons of strong support from fans and has nowhere to go but up.

For those of us remembering the past, it seems nice to regain the Stewart-Anderson aura, if only in the air. More to the immediate point, Anderson is a genuinely appealing person who knows how to coach, loves Missouri and — one would suppose — finally comes home to his dream job.

Those elements don't automatically produce winning teams, but they go a long way.

And besides, who says the most successful Division II coach in the country won't transform into a Division I winner? After all, Missouri had a similarly happy experience once in the past when a youngster named Norm Stewart came home after a stint coaching at the State College of Iowa, now known as the University of Northern Iowa.

Anderson is an even better prospect, with more years under his belt and a current national championship trophy in his team's display case. Maybe we should thank him for being willing to take a chance on Mizzou.

Let us assume that, after all these years, Alden is looking forward, eager to collaborate with Kim Anderson. You can bet the AD will pray for the new coach's success.

Who cares about the past when a happy future is possible?

©2014 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.