no one cares

An extraordinary writer has written an extraordinary book you should read, especially if you are in a public policy position, particularly if that position involves holding public purse strings.

He begins his book bluntly: “This is the book I promised myself I would never write. And promised my wife as well.”


“I have kept that promise for a decade—since our younger son, Kevin, hanged himself in our basement, a week before his twenty-first birthday in July 2005, after struggling for three years with schizophrenia.”

Then, three years later, his eldest son, Dean, developed symptoms of schizophrenia, too.

Several weeks ago, while driving to Columbia to do some research at the State Historical Society, I heard Ron Powers being interviewed on National Public Radio about this book. I knew instantly I had to read it:  no one cares about crazy people, which draws its title from a “ghastly” remark made in 2010 by a campaign aide to Scott Walker, who was running for Governor of Wisconsin.  Even the lower-case print used on the cover and title page is a message.  Crazy people are lower-case people, ones we prefer to ignore, ones easy to lose.

It should be explained that Ron and I have been friends most of our lives although that friendship became strained for reasons that are now clear from reading his book, a circumstance that might not be unusual when friends do not realize the cumulative effects of life circumstances upon other friends.  If you’re not familiar with him, Google him.  He’s a Hannibal native. Look at the long list of his books. Read about his Pulitzer Prize and his career with Charles Kuralt on the CBS Sunday Morning show.

Early in his book, Ron writes of an experience he had in a Vermont legislative committee hearing (He lives in Vermont) that equals one of the most vivid memories I have of covering thousands of hours of committee meetings in four decades as a statehouse reporter.  I recall a father testifying in one of the committee rooms on the first floor of the Missouri Capitol about this state’s inadequate services for the mentally ill.   He recited the struggles of his son whose deteriorating mental health eventually led the son into crime and then to state prison.  The point the father made that day should have been disturbing to anyone facing him from the committee table: the only place his son could receive treatment for his mental disease was in a prison.

Ron and his wife, Honoree, had gone to the lovely, small, Vermont Capitol in Montpelier in January, 2014 to testify about whether mental patients should be institutionalized against their will when their conditions reach certain levels of desperation and danger, or whether such action violates the individual’s civil liberties and exposes them to questionable drug therapies perceived by some as being prescribed by doctors who receive financial rewards from “Big Pharma” for prescribing those drugs.  We’ve heard the same arguments here. He heard people such as the father I had listened to here in Missouri.

Just three weeks after the Powerses attended that hearing came the revelation of the callous pronouncement from the Walker aide.  And that’s when Ron began to re-think his vow about not writing the book, reconsidering his desire to protect the privacy of his sons, and reconsidering his feelings that he did not want to exploit them.  I am glad that he made the difficult decision to write it after that hearing jolted him out of his introspection and into what he realized is “a simple and self-evident and morally insupportable truth: Too many of the mentally ill in our country live under conditions of atrocity.”

The book is not just a recounting of his family’s personal journey.  It also is an excellent journalistic recounting of the way societies have treated the mentally ill for centuries. Early in his book, Ron writes, “For centuries those who have been struck by madness have always had their own cruel nomenclature to bear, names intended to separate them out, divide us from them: lunatics, imbeciles, loonies, dips, weirdos, wackos, schizos, psychos, freaks, morons, nutcases, nutjobs, wingnuts, cranks.  The mad one, then, is something between a clown and a demon.  Unless that mad one is a gift of God made flesh.”

Such as a child.

Ron mixes the deeply-personal narrative of his family’s eventual shift from one of being normal, proud parents of gifted sons to a deepening search for hoped normality in the face of increasing and inescapable reality, with perceptive accounts of the years of society’s shifting thought on mental illness and the coining of the phrase “schizophrenia” by Eugen Bleuler in 1908.  Ron demonstrates his extensive journalistic story-telling skills to track the attitudes toward mental illness from the days of  demons and shamans; from Hippocrates to today’s researchers; from Bedlam, the first madhouse dating to 1247, to today’s asylums; from Sigmund Freud, Dorothea Dix, and Charles Darwin, to the disciples of Eugenics, and to Julian Jaynes’ Twentieth Century thoughts on the origins of madness—and research and policies in the forty-years since then, including mental illness deniers such as L. Ron Hubbard and Thomas Szasz..  It was mortifying to read that one Albert Priddy, the superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, was a strong advocate of eugenics and a leader of the effort to defend the Virginia Sterilization Act.  It is only slightly comforting that his name does not show up on our particular branch of the family tree.

His writing on the deinstitutionalization movement started in a Ronald Reagan-signed law while Governor of California, the effects of which remain obvious to those will but see, is damning.  Ron calls the Lanterman-Petris-Short act “the national gold standard for clueless, destructive government interference in the interest of mentally ill people.” And he offers studies showing that our prisons have become the largest treatment facilities for those with mental illness since the national adoption of the act’s philosophy.

Ron doesn’t want you to “enjoy” the book—and you won’t.  But read it anyway. FEEL his book.  Have the courage and the empathy to read it from beginning to end including the preface, especially if you deal with public policy—particularly health and mental health issues and budget issues.

Too rarely, I asked legislative committee chairmen and women how they could listen to real people plead for the kind of help that only government can provide and then ignore the humanity behind those pleas.  The answers always were basically, “Well, we only have so much money.”  In recent years, their successors have moved to assure the state will have even less.

It is sad that so much of the process of government—at all levels—and citizen participation in a society that is greater than the one behind our front doors seems to look only at dollars and not at the real people next door or across the street. National and international health studies indicate one in four of us experience, or will experience, some kind of mental illness. All of us know someone who is one of those. But it’s okay to see the face of only one person—George Washington, whose benign gaze greets us on the front of the dollar bill.

This is a book of humanity that every health and mental health committee member in every state legislature should read.  It’s a book ALL of us should read.  We should be uncomfortable throughout it, and after it.

Thank you, Ron and Honoree, for your courage and your strength with this book.  We hope others can draw courage and strength of their own to see people, not just dollars.

A “terrorist attack” at the Governor’s Mansion

One of the first questions asked after one of today’s violent episodes that leaves people dead and injured is “Was this a terrorist attack?”   We are not the first generation to ask that question by a long shot.  There always have been terrorists, real and imagined. And sometimes, as is often the case today, a terrorist or suspected terrorist is identified with a faith tradition.

Herewith, we offer a story of a “terrorist attack” at the home of Missouri’s governor, told on behalf of one Phillip Thomas Miller, whose friends called him “P.T.”  He was once the warden of the state penitentiary and is credited with creating a policy that would let convicts have their sentences reduced by one-fourth (in his time) if they behaved themselves in the prison.  He thought it would be good for the discipline inside the walls if inmates have a substantial reason to obey the rules.

But before P.T. Miller was the warden of the penitentiary, he was considered a terrorist.

Miller moved to Jefferson City when he was about sixteen years old.  He died sixty-two years later in the same house in which he had lived since he moved to the capital city.

Charles B. Oldham told of Miller and the “terrorist attack” in one of the 1914 series of articles on prominent early residents of Jefferson City.

A “swell ball” was held in the original Governor’s Mansion in the late 1830s, before the first capitol (it was known as ‘The Governor’s House” originally) burned down in 1837.   As Oldham told the story, referring to Miller:

He was then quite a youngster and clerk for his uncle in the latter’s store.  Mr. Miller and some boys with whom he associated were considered too young to invite to the ball, but his uncle, John Miller, and his aunt were there, as were all the men and women of any prominence in Jefferson City.  Mr. Miller and his companions could look on from a distance, and that was all.  They were chagrined and made.  It was proposed that some trick be played upon the merrymakers and soil their fun.  In looking about for means of carrying out their intentions, Mr. Miller suggested that he could open his uncle’s store and procure some gunpowder and make a big noise near the Mansion and frighten the ladies out of their wits.

One plan after another was devised and abandoned until finally Mr. Miller suggested that some ten or fifteen pounds of gunpowder should be tightly wrapped in twine with a fuse attachment.  This was done, and Mr. Miller and one other boy deposited the layout near one of the windows on the south side of the Mansion, ignited the fuse and scampered.  When the explosion occurred, every window in the south side of the Mansion was broken and it rained pieces of twine over many acres of ground.  The women screamed, fainted and did other things common to the feminine mind in such emergencies to show their fear.  The men, too, were frightened, for this incident occurred at a time when the Mormons were troublesome in this state and threatening.  The men immediately imagined that the Mormons were trying to blow up the Mansion.  The ball came to an end immediately, for the women demanded franticly that they be taken home forthwith.  Mr. Miller’s uncle was sheriff of the county at that time and he made a good thorough investigation of the grounds.  The thousands of pieces of twine string puzzled him for a time, but presently he made up his mind that the whole affair was a badly planned joke and that his nephew was at the bottom of it.

Mr. Miller and his companions were badly frightened when they realized what they had done, and although his uncle accused him that night of being in on the plot, yet he would not admit as much until he was assured that no one had been hurt, as was true. 

The old capitol burned shortly after that. Months later, armed conflict broke out in northwest Missouri between Mormons and non-believers. Governor Boggs issued the order telling the Mormons to get out of Missouri or face extermination.

The Governor’s Mansion became the temporary quarters during the Civil War of Colonel Henry Boernstein after Union troops ran Confederate-sympathizing Governor Claiborne F. Jackson out of town.  It was replaced by the present mansion in 1871.

And P. T. Miller?  He became an upright man in every respect and a good example to the rising generation. He was a good business man, a good official, and a good writer.  Everybody knew him who had any acquaintance to the city and everybody liked him for his many and good qualities and sterling worth.

The boy who set off a bomb at a time when there were fears of terrorism 180 years ago died an honored man in 1895.

(Photo from the Cole County Historical Society)

Protecting the guv

(Editor’s note:  We are now less than a month away from inaugurating a new governor.  We’ve gone back through the notes we have used to cover the dozen inaugurals we’ve covered and we’ve looked at some things we didn’t include in our coverage manuals to assemble several pieces that focus on the new governor and the ceremony that will put him in office. Our “Transitions” entry on November was the first in the series.  This is the second):

My old friend “Cutter” Short, who used to hang around reporters at the Capitol years and years ago, back when the reporters were in Rooms 200 and 318, sent an email after reading the “Transition” entry a few days ago and reading the mention of the security arrangements the new governor will have to deal with.  “Dalton told Amos and me in ’66 that until ’63 he had no protection.  After that, a trooper rode with him but that was about it as I recall,” he wrote.

He was talking about Governor John Dalton (1961-65) and United Press International bureau chief Rael Amos.  Until then, Missouri Governors walked around and drove around pretty much as they pleased, with a couple of exceptions.   

Governor Thomas T. Crittenden (1881-85), who persuaded railroad interests to post $5,000 reward for arrest of Jesse James, kept his .44 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver in his desk.  The pistol is now held by the state museum. 

Governor Lloyd Stark (1937-41) didn’t carry a gun as far as we know, but the Highway Patrol assigned troopers to escort him and to protect the Governor’s Mansion because Stark was working with federal authorities to prosecute a big fraud case in the Insurance Department that ultimately brought down Kansas City boss Tom Pendergast—and several death threats had been received.

Otherwise, governors didn’t have security details.  

The Highway Patrol’s history recounts that Superintendent Hugh Waggoner one day early in 1963 summoned Trooper Richard Radford to his office and told him to report for duty the next morning in civilian clothes.  They went to Governor Dalton’s office where Waggoner introduced Radford to Dalton as his full-time security officer.  Waggoner took the steps because Dalton had gotten death threats.  There was no training available for Radford so he made things up as he went along. 

The security for Dalton’s successor Warren Hearnes, was increased.  Hearnes liked to fly, so the Patrol provided a plane and a pilot who doubled as a security officer.  As time went by, the duties were separated so there was a pilot and a security officer when Hearnes wanted to fly. 

Christopher Bond got a death threat not long after he was elected as the youngest governor in Missouri history.  He issued an executive order not long after taking office in 1973 establishing a special unit within the Highway Patrol to provide protection around the clock. 

Joseph Teasdale increased security at the Governor’s Mansion because prison inmates worked there and he, as a former prosecutor, wanted to make sure he and his family were safe.

There is at least one time when a governor traveled without a security officer—well, twice, that we know of.  One is a personal story. 

Governor Carnahan got his own pilot’s license and one night showed up at the Columbia Flying Service office wanting to fly to Hermann.  Somebody had to fly the plane back to Columbia because Carnahan was going to meet his wife, Jean, and their security officer, have dinner in Hermann and fly on to a fundraiser in St. Louis.  Your correspondent’s son, Rob, was a flight instructor at the time so he flew to Hermann with the Governor.  The Carnahans had him join them for dinner before he flew back.   

Another time Governor Carnahan flew without a Highway Patrol security officer was October 16, 2000.  The security division, as the Patrol puts it, had been “pressed to the limit of its manpower” and chose not to put an officer on the plane but have someone meet the governor when he arrived in New Madrid for a fund-raising event.  Later that evening a Highway Patrolman on duty at the mansion had to tell Jean Carnahan what had happened.  

It was difficult to identify the remains in the wreckage which is why, today, Governor Greitens and his family members will be fingerprinted and will give DNA samples. 

Security was stepped up after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  The legislature passed a law in 2005 creating the Governor’s Security Division to protect the Governor and his immediate family and to provide transportation. 

What began with one trooper whose only equipment was “a suit, a concealed weapon, and an unmarked car,” is now a corps of specially-trained Highway Patrolmen whose job for at least the next four years is to keep Missouri’s human state SEAL and his family safe. 

Half-guilty, fully hypocritical

Your correspondent has a good friend, the Reverend John Bennett, who speaks and prays with a soft but strong voice, a man stooped by age but standing straight and tall in his passion for social justice.

John has been convicted of trespassing in the public gallery of the Missouri Senate.  He’s one of the Medicaid 23, as they are called, the ministers and private citizens who interrupted a filibuster on May 6, 2014 with songs, slogans and prayers urging senators to forget about playing politics with Medicaid expansion and instead think of 300,000 Missourians living on much less than senators are paid who would gain healthcare coverage under that part of Obamacare.

That’s John, wearing his minister’s stole, on the front row with the group in front of the Cole County Courthouse before their trial.

missouri faith voices

He said at the time of the demonstration, “Missouri lawmakers need a wake-up call. This is not about politics—this is about human life.  Until they do their job and pass Medicaid expansion, 700 Missourians will die each year and hundreds of thousands will live with untreated illness and in financial fear. This is a moral issue.”

Your correspondent was at the Senate press table that day.  Posted video of John and the other demonstrators with the story on the Missourinet web page. We understand the video was played during the trial. The Senate did not seem surprised when John and the-more than 23 others confronted them from the gallery.  Ron Richard, then the Majority Floor Leader, immediately moved for adjournment, interrupting Senator Jamilah Nasheed’s filibuster.  A few members stuck around for a while but the rest decided they didn’t need to hear what some people of faith had to say on behalf of folks without enough money to influence lawmakers.  Prosecutor Mark Richardson tried to portray Nasheed as a victim of the protest.  She strongly dismisses that thought.  She says Richardson never talked to her.  She was never asked to testify.

Senator Richard is now the President pro Tem, the leader of the chamber.

Capitol police, who earlier had been briefed by leaders of the demonstration, asked them to leave.  And most of them did.  But the Medicaid 23, as they had promised the police, stayed until officers tapped them individually on the shoulder and asked them to depart.  And when that happened, each of them peacefully left the chamber.  John was one of the last four to go.

Prosecutor Richardson charged the 23 with trespassing and with obstructing the business of the Senate.  One of the 23 was unable to attend the trial and could be tried separately later.  We’ll see if Richardson has the courage to put him on trial by himself. After all, he has to be as guilty as the rest, doesn’t he?

The case could have been dropped at any time by Richard and the Senate but Richardson spent more than two years on their behalf zealously pursuing his case and the righteous Senate leadership didn’t stop him. From the accounts we have read, his closing arguments displayed some ignorance one would not have expected from someone who had spent two years preparing.  In the end, a jury said they were guilty of trespassing.  But they were not guilty of obstructing the Senate.  An appeal of the conviction is likely.

To add a degree of fairness here—just one degree—there is an issue of public safety involved, and Richardson raised it.  If the Senate had dropped these charges, would it be giving tacit approval for other groups to think it’s permissible to do what the Medicaid 23 and their supporters did?  Would the Senate be inviting disorder in its galleries if it did not pursue this case? We weren’t in the jury room but that might have been the telling point leading to the trespassing conviction.

Prosecutor Richardson told the jury there are other places to hold protests at the Capitol, and it is true that protests are not uncommon in the rotunda or on the south front steps.  It is also true that lawmakers can and do easily ignore them.  Yes, people can testify in committees, and they have.  But when citizens start to feel their lawmakers are stone deaf, some kind of civil disobedience might seem the only alternative.

The jury, perhaps sensing that recommending jail time for these folks and only adding to the list of national embarrassments that Missouri seems to generate too often, has recommended the judge fine them.  Judge Dan Green is deciding how much.

There’s a greater and broader issue that is outside the courtroom.  It is inside the Senate.  And it is this:

What does this prosecution say about a Senate that has spent so much of its time passing a Religious Freedom Restoration bill that lets people use their religion to exclude others from associating with them as a matter of public policy—but prosecutes those who are PRACTICING their religious freedom (among other constitutional rights) to call on the legislature to include people in a matter of public policy?  The Senate seems to prefer as friends those supporting a religion of exclusion while considering those supporting a religion of inclusion as criminals.

It might be good for legislators who meet weekly for Bible Study to become acquainted with Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew because He speaks of them in Chapter 23:

“Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14]

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Had Jesus spoken this truth to power from the gallery of the Missouri Senate on May 6, 2014, He would stand today with the Medicaid 22 as a convicted trespasser.

(Photo from Missouri Faith Voices)

Five grams

The state used five grams of pentobarbital in May to execute Earl Forrest, the 87th Missouri inmate executed by lethal injection since George Mercer died in the gas chamber at the old penitentiary more than twenty-seven years ago.  Mercer was executed in the gas chamber because the prison system did not have a place for lethal injections. Although gas was still an option, the gas chamber was no longer safe to use. It was good enough for the inmate’s experience but the chamber’s sealing gaskets were so bad that it was likely no witnesses would have been left alive to testify that he had been legally executed. The chairs were removed from the gas chamber and a gurney was placed inside for Mercer.  

Twenty-five men remain under death sentences in Missouri but it might be some time before your correspondent or someone else on behalf of the Missourinet goes back to Bonne Terre for another execution.  

Forrest was the 22nd execution these eyes have watched.  Those men were responsible for at least 36 murders.  Several, including Forrest, were considered likely killers in other states or were suspected but not charged in other Missouri murder cases. 

He killed three people, including a Dent County Deputy Sheriff, in a meth-related incident.  Death for Forrest came peacefully, a situation that seems unfair to many.  When the curtains around the execution room were opened, witnesses could see him lying on the medical gurney, his head turned toward those he had invited as his witnesses.  He, as has been the case with all of the others we’ve seen, was tightly strapped down so that only his head and feet could move.  Although the time of death was set at 7:18 p.m., he might have died sooner.  He stopped wiggling his feet and talking to his witnesses only about 45 seconds after the drug started flowing.   The curtains are closed after five minutes to let the medical staff check for signs of life, then reopened when they have certified the inmate is dead.  

The Attorney General’s office calls witnesses a few days later to see if we saw any signs of suffering or pain, just in case death penalty opponents try to claim the drug causes the recipient to suffer.  For the record, we have never seen any of the 22 men we have watched indicate any sign of pain and suffering.  Forrest showed no indication of discomfort.

Missouri used to use a three-drug procedure to produce death.  But it now uses only one because of court rulings and industry actions against the use of FDA-regulated drugs for executions.

These 112 men, living and dead—the 87 executed and the 25 waiting—are not the only ones who have been sentenced to death by lethal injection in Missouri.  The Corrections Department says 181 men and five women have been given that sentence. What about the others?  

The department gives reporters an information packet at each execution that includes a list of the disposition (a pretty cold word, but we are talking about murder cases here) of all of those sentenced to death.  You may interpret what we are about to tell through whatever lens you view the death penalty.  For some, it will be an indication that the system works.  For others, it will be an indication that it is flawed and might have led to executions of innocent men.   Some, perhaps many, of those who have been re-sentenced to life without parole won new trials and took a plea bargain instead of risking another death sentence in a new trial. 

This stuff can get pretty complicated but we think we have a pretty good handle on the people who have been facing a death sentence but are not facing it now, and why.

Thirty-nine inmates have gotten new trials that resulted in sentences of life without parole.  One of them has since died.  Those surviving range in age from 36 to 76. Two are women.

Five more were sentenced to life with a chance for parole after fifty years. They are now 55-68 years old. Although one is now in his 37th year in prison, he is not thirteen years from possible parole because his new sentence came after a new trial and the clock is resent with that new sentence.  He’s 61 now and still has a long time to go.

Four men were resentenced to life for a lesser crime, second-degree murder.  Two, ages 46 and 55, remain in prison.  One completed that lesser sentence in 2010 and was released. The fourth died in prison.

Fifteen inmates facing the death penalty have died of natural causes.  They were 33 to 82 years old. Two were women.

One inmate became a prison murder victim four years after he arrived in a state prison.

Three have committed suicide. One killed himself at the age of 61, ten months after being sentenced. One died at 31.  The third, a woman, committed suicide in her cell at age 43 just a few hours after a jury had convicted her in her second trial.  

One inmate, whose conviction was reversed not long after being put in prison, was transferred to a federal prison on federal charges and remains there. If he’s released, he still faces the murder charge in Missouri.

A half-dozen have been released, some after their convictions were reversed, including one who was retried and convicted of manslaughter and then released after finishing the manslaughter sentence.

Some inmates are awaiting new trials and we’ll assign them to a category after those trials take place. 

Four inmates are under a “special circumstances” category.   The death sentence for Roosevelt Pollard is under a stay because he’s been declared mentally incompetent.  His conviction remains and if his condition improves, he still could be executed.  He’s been in prison thirty years and is now 53. 

We’re not sure where to put David Barnett although he could be the fortieth inmate in the “life without parole” category.  His conviction was reversed last year by a federal judge and sent back to the lower court.  The prosecution had 180 days to file a request for a new death sentence. It appears that time has elapsed, meaning Barnett automatically gets life without parole.

Two inmates achieved “special circumstances” status under Governor Mel Carnahan.

Darrell Mease, who murdered a man, his wife, and their paraplegic son, was scheduled for execution January 27, 1999.  That would have been the second day of Pope John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis.  The Missouri Supreme Court re-set the date for February 10 after realizing the situation with January.  The Pope, in a private conversation with Carnahan, urged him to show mercy to Mease.  Carnahan, who had approved 26 executions by then, later said that he could not resist making an exception with Mease after the Pope looked him in the eye and asked for mercy.  So Mease shows up as one of the 39 on the “life without parole” list.

William Boliek, now 60 years old, was to be executed in 1997.  But two days before he was to die, Carnahan ordered a three-member board to investigate claims that his court defense had been inadequate.  The board submitted a report to Carnahan who was killed in a plane crash in 2000 before acting on its recommendations.  The wording of Carnahan’s stay is such that only he could have lifted it. Governor Holden asked the Missouri Supreme Court to vacate the stay but the court refused.

It’s hard to predict how many of the 25 still under a death sentence will be executed.  All still have enough appeals remaining to lead to speculation that Forrest will be the only execution this year.  Questions about the pentobarbital used for executions remain.  Two days after Forrest’s execution, Pfizer announced steps to keep any of its products from being used for executions.  Industry observers say that shuts the door on access to open-market drugs used in that process.

The Corrections Department refuses to identify the source of the drug it uses although some sources say Missouri gets it from a compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma.  Texas and Georgia also get the drug from compounding pharmacies. 

Licensed pharmacists, licensed doctors, or a third party supervised by a licensed pharmacist can mix or change the ingredients of a drug to tailor medication for a specific purpose.  Sometimes a patient needs medicine in liquid form although it is available on the open market only as a pill the person cannot swallow.  Or maybe the medication has a dye in it that causes an allergic reaction.   The compounded drug is not under Food and Drug Administration regulation, meaning the FDA cannot verify its safety or its effectiveness.

Regardless, five grams of pentobarbital does the job.  Effectively.

A religious experience, not a crime

We’re going to wade into the murky waters of religion and politics today in search of reason and logic.

We’ve had some time to mentally chew on Representative Tila Hubrecht’s thought in the waning days of the legislative session that a pregnancy resulting from a rape is a “silver lining” from God. All kinds of liberal thinkers and organizations have jumped all over her assertion made during House debate on the bill saying a woman’s egg is a person just a soon as a man’s sperm hits it even if the circumstances leading to the presence of the sperm are violent. The bill passed the House but didn’t have enough time to cause trouble in the Senate before adjournment.

The personhood bill did not contain the usual exemptions that allow abortions in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the woman. “It’s not up to us to say, ‘No, just because there was a rape, they cannot exist,’” Rep. Hubrecht said, the “they” referring to a person created by the sperm and egg. “Sometimes bad things happen—and they’re horrible things, but sometimes God can give us a silver lining through the birth of a child.” And she added, “When God gives life, he does so because there’s a reason, no matter what. I’ve met and talked with the different people who have been conceived by rape. There is a reason for their life.” We were not there when she said those things so we don’t know if she gave examples of the reasons for those lives.

She apparently is not alone in her feelings in the Missouri legislature and elsewhere. The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia reported about the same time that Delegate (that’s what they call Representatives in West Virginia) Brian Kurcaba said during a committee hearing, “Obviously rape is awful. What is beautiful is the child that could come from this.”

In Indiana, U. S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said in 2012, “I think that even when life begins in the horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock lost his race.

All three of these folks might be surprised to consider what they are really saying. If God intended pregnancy to occur, GOD IS INVOLVED IN FAMILY PLANNING! And we pretty well know what these folks think of organizations and individuals offering family planning advice.

Of course, all of this discussion is pointless because Congressman Todd Akin assured us during his Senate bid four years ago that a woman’s body can “shut the whole thing down” in cases of “legitimate rape.” He argued, as Rep. Hubrecht has argued, that the punishment should be of the rapist, not of the fetus. The Akin theory, however, seems to indicate pregnancy can only occur during illegitimate rape, whatever that is.

Not long after Hubrecht’s comments, Octavio Chorino and Peter Greenspan offered an op-ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch agreeing with Hubrecht and the others that “violence against women is unacceptable.” But they found the “notion that good may come of such a violation to be dangerous at best…and any suggestion that there is a bright side to sexual violence is an offense to all survivors.”

They noted other consequences of rape including transmission of sexually transmitted diseases as well as extensive physical and psychological injuries that can affect a woman for the rest of her life. “These consequences are very real and they should not be diminished by the claim that any rape has a silver lining,” they wrote. Unlike Hubrecht, Kurcaba, Mourdock, and Akin, these professionals have had real-world experience with rape and incest victims. “Exposing sexual assault victims to the risks inherent in pregnancy and childbirth is effectively punishing her for her own assault. This is unacceptable,” they said.

Chorino is the president of the Missouri Section Advisory Committee of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Greenspan, also a doctor, is the group’s legislative chair. But what do they know? They didn’t even address the issue of God’s will and Rep. Hubrecht’s inclusion of that issue takes the debate beyond the practical issues on which Chorino and Greenspan based their article.

Their experiences and their observations are not likely to concern the “silver lining” believers anyway.   We have seen no indication that those who want Missouri to have the strongest anti-abortion standards in the nation care much about the second life involved—that of the rape or incest victim.   They certainly didn’t show it during debate on the personhood bill in this election session of the legislature.

The comments, “When God gives life, he does so because there’s a reason, no matter what” and “sometimes God can give us a silver lining through the birth of a child” began to percolate in our head on a recent trip. You know how the mind sometimes looks for something to wonder about other than the many miles yet to go. In this case the mind decided to test the validity of an idea by taking it on a logical line and then asked a simple question:

“If God has a reason for causing a pregnancy through a man’s sexual act with an unwilling woman because ‘when God gives life there’s a reason no matter what,’ why should the man face a criminal charge for what logically is an act of God?”

Then the mind went on. “When does God decide a pregnancy should result from the rape or incest? While the act is in progress? Or does God decide immediately after the event that this is an opportunity to create a life? Or—-

“If God has a reason for a rape or incest-caused pregnancy, does it not follow that God had a reason for the rape or incest?

“If God gives life, and does so because there’s a reason, no matter what, what is that reason? Is it punishment for something the woman or the young girl did that was wrong in God’s eyes? Or, conversely, is it some kind of reward for doing something good such as allowing oneself to be a rape or incest victim, or is it a reward for the rapist or the person committing the incest?

“How can a God-blessed result occur except through a God-inspired act?”

The driver, not being a Biblical scholar, could not cite any examples from the Bible of a God-inspired result that did not begin with a God-inspired or directed act so he did not reply.

“But,” said the mind, “Don’t supporters of the position need to provide a definitive logical answer that does not limit an omnipotent God? If God has the power to create physical life, does not God have to ordain the circumstances under which that life is physically created?

“And doesn’t God have to ordain the circumstances under which the life is physically created because the life would not be created without that violent act?

“And if that is the case, isn’t the argument severely weakened that the perpetrator of the act should be punished rather than the life created being ‘punished’ because, as she said, ‘There is a reason for their life?’ Are not the perpetrator and the new life equal partners in this process and therefore equally blameless?

“In a climate that argues that religious freedom needs more protection, how can it be logically argued that an act, even a violent one, that is motivated by God’s decision to begin a new life no matter what should not be recognized as a religious act, not a criminal act?

“Is rape or incest that creates a life, for which God has a reason no matter what, therefore an act of God?

“And further, should not the woman logically forgive her rapist or her incestuous relative because her STD and her physical and psychological injuries were necessary to create the pregnancy God had a reason to create under these circumstances no matter what?”

And the driver finally responded to his mind out loud, “Your arguments are interesting. But they are flawed because you use the word, ‘logically.’ And logic seems to be the farthest thing from the thinking of those who support the ‘silver lining’ concept.”

And the driver tuned the radio to the old-time radio channel that was re-broadcasting a 1951 Jack Benny show and both of them drove on.


Killing death

We’ve gotten emails from a conservative group proudly announcing that the conservatives appear to have realized the death penalty needs reassessment.

It’s interesting that there is a certain amount of chest-thumping about this discovery because until now the conservative majority in the Missouri legislature has turned up its collective nose at any proposal by Democrats to study the issue or to just repeal the death penalty.

You can ask Senate minority leader Joseph Keaveny about the seemingly sudden shift. He has tried to get legislation approved to study the issue for several years but has been rebuffed repeatedly.

Be that as it may, Senator Paul Wieland’s bill to repeal the death penalty has cleared a Senate committee and is going to the full senate for debate with a committee recommendation that the Senate approve the bill. Wieland’s latest press release squarely addresses an issue that critics say the pro-life forces have sidestepped for years—at least in the eyes of death penalty opponents. “I am a devout Catholic,” says Wieland in his release, “and I believe if I’m going to be pro-life, I should be so on both ends of the spectrum—from conception to natural death.”

No one will be watching this bill more than Earl M. Forrest.

The state Supreme Court has set a May 11 execution date for him because back in 2002 he got into an argument with a woman about her purchase of a mobile home and a lawn mower from him. He killed her and a man who was at her home, took $25,000 worth me meth and went to his home. When law enforcement officers showed up, he got into a shootout with them and killed a Dent County deputy sheriff and wounded the county sheriff. Forrest was wounded. He’s now 66 years old. The U. S. Supreme Court has refused to review his case and all of his state and federal appeals otherwise appear to have run out. The legislature is to adjourn two days after his scheduled execution so there is some urgency to deal with Wieland’s bill.

Lloyd Leo Anderson, the last man to be executed by lethal gas in Missouri, was in a position similar to that of Forrest. After Anderson’s appeals ran out, St. Louis Representative Jay Howard introduced a bill to end capital punishment. Governor Warren Hearnes stayed Anderson’s execution until the legislature decided the issue. When the legislature killed Howard’s bill, Hearnes lifted the stay and Anderson was gassed on January 26, 1965. But not before some angry last words: “Tell them I didn’t get a fair trial. Tell Hearnes to kiss my ___ ass. The same to the rest of you guys,” apparently referring to the large number of witnesses that crowded around the gas chamber, peering through windows to watch him die minutes later.

Missouri executed eighteen men between November, 2013 and September 1, 2015 when I watched Roderick Nunley die quietly for the kidnap, rape, and murder of a fifteen-year old Kansas City school girl a quarter century earlier. He was the eighty-sixth Missouri inmate executed by drugs. The first drug-induced execution was that of George Mercer January 6, 1989—in the gas chamber at the old penitentiary. No new execution facilities were available then.

There are twenty-seven men left under a death sentence in Missouri. No one has been sentenced to death in the last two years, mostly because of plea bargains—as we understand the situation.

Wieland’s bill says anyone sentenced to death by the time his bill would become law on August 28 would be re-sentenced to life without parole. At least twenty men who had been sentenced to death already have been re-sentenced to life without parole after further re-evaluation of their cases. Two men, Robert Driscoll and Joseph Amrine, have been released after their death sentences were overturned. One has been declared mentally incompetent to be executed although he’s still under a death penalty.

Your correspondent has watched more than twenty men die on a gurney from lethal injection. After several of those executions, relatives of the victims have spoken with reporters in a prison press room. No one has ever indicated any regret about the inmate’s ultimate fate. And in the last few times, they have expressed resentment at a system that has taken so long to put a killer away. More than once they have complained about the cruel and unusual punishment that the system has inflicted on the survivors of the victims. We wonder how the families of the victims of the twenty-seven men under a death sentence feel about Wieland’s bill.

Missouri has repealed the death penalty before. It did it in 1917 only to have the legislature reinstate it in 1919 when sponsors spoke of a marked increase in murders since the repeal. It was repealed again after Anderson’s 1965 gassing and a U. S. Supreme Court ruling in 1972 that gassing was cruel and unusual punishment. That let every inmate in America under a death sentence be re-sentenced to life. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that a new system of executions was not cruel and unusual punishment, leading Missouri to reinstitute the penalty in 1977. The legislature changed the law allowing executions by gas or lethal injection in 1988 with lethal injection the preferred means.

So now, it appears, conservatives seem to be deciding that liberals might have had a good idea after all. Is this just the start of a new cycle of thinking or has society forever changed on this issue? Is there nobody whose crime is so abhorrent that the forfeiture of life is the only just punishment? Is life in prison with no hope of ever getting out the worst possible penalty?

Consider part of the last statement of David Zink before his execution July 14, 2015:

“For those who remain on death row, understand that everyone is going to die. Statistically speaking, we have a much easier death than most, so I encourage you to embrace it and celebrate our true liberation before society figures it out and condemns us to life without parole and we too will die a lingering death.”