Joe Amrine is Released

109th wrongly-convicted person exonerated after 16 years under sentence of death

Today, Joe Amrine walks free, becoming the 109th person released from sentence of death in the United States for reasons of probable innocence. At 10:30 this morning Cole County prosecutor, Bill Tackett, announced that the DNA tests he had ordered do not implicate Joe.

Joe Amrine has just walked out of the Cole County Jail a free man.The Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling in April granting Amrine a new trial if the state elected to re-file charges. Tackett had asked for an extension to study DNA evidence but today's statement leaves the Supreme Court's decision (below) definitive.Amrine had been under sentence of death in Missouri since 1986 (16 years), for a crime that he did not commit.

Members of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty (MADP) celebrate Amrine's release and condemn the lengthy process to win his release. This case is a classic reason to insist on a moratorium of all executions.

In November 2001, the Attorney General Jay Nixon asked the Missouri Supreme Court to set an execution date for Amrine. The high court complied with several requests for such dates for others; state officials have since executed 6 of those men.

The justices, however, delayed setting a date and--perhaps prompted in part by the acclaimed documentary, "Unreasonable Doubt: the Joe Amrine Case" and its resulting public attention--convened its extraordinary hearing to consider his innocence.

This encouraging decision and now courageous action by Tackett comes after all of Amrine's appeals had gone on deaf ears. In its hearing on February 4th we heard the Assistant Attorney General declare that the Court need not stop the execution of an innocent person as long as the prisoner had a fair trial.

The Missouri Supreme Court rejected that policy, declaring that a "manifest injustice" would occur if an innocent man was executed. Joe Amrine was convicted and sentenced to die on the testimony of jailhouse informants who have since recanted.The only remaining evidence in the case points to his innocence. 2 witness, one a prison guard, have implicated one of the informants in the murder.

Sean O'Brien, Joe's attorney, said, "It was way too easy to convict him in the first place, and way too hard to get him a new trial."We demand a halt to all executions and the formation of a commission to study what went wrong in Joe Amrine's case and to examine various aspects of Missouri's death-penalty system.

Until the commission releases a complete report, a moratorium on executions should remain in effect.Missouri's criminal justice system is plagued with the same problems that moved former Illinois Governor Ryan, a Republican and former death penalty supporter, to stop the machinery of death in Illinois and that has inspired legislation.

These problems include:
·A recent study by the University of Missouri reveals that race plays a key role in determining who gets the death sentence in Missouri.
·Nearly a dozen prisoners sentenced to death in Missouri were defended by lawyers later disbarred.
·2 other death-sentenced inmates inmates have been completely exonerated years after their trials; at least 5 others have been executed in spite of troubling questions of innocence.

At least 3 more men living under a death sentence in Missouri's Potosi prison have strong claims of innocence.
·A 1999 poll of Missourians showed strong public support for a moratorium on executions, and a study of the death penalty system in Missouri, as noted in the MADP report "Miscarriages of Justice".Harry Truman, perhaps Missouri's strongest leader on civil rights, showed his understanding of such flaws when he commuted the death sentences of his would-be assassins.MADP members believe that an independent study of Missouri's death penalty system will show it to be rife with flaws and inequities.

We have a civic obligation to pause the government-sponsored taking of human life so that we can make a clear and informed decision on our duty as Americans to prevent injustice.

We urge Governor Holden and the Missouri General Assembly to declare a moratorium on executions in Missouri, and conduct a fair and balanced study of the death penalty.

The MADP report "Miscarriages of Justice", the recent report from the University of Missouri "The Prevailing Injustice in the Application of the Death Penalty in Missouri (1976-1996)", and the 1999 Missouri poll findings are available through the website
(source: Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, P.O. Box 54, Jefferson City, MO

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