Editorial Roundup: Missouri

Kansas City Star. January 3, 2023.

Editorial: Gov. Parson, show Missouri isn’t a vengeful state. Stop Amber McLaughlin’s execution

We have said this before, but as long as Missouri continues to execute prisoners with regularity, it can’t be said too often: Capital punishment is wrong and barbaric, and it’s time to abolish it for good.

Amber McLaughlin, convicted of murdering her ex-girlfriend Beverly Guenther in St. Louis County in 2003, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Jan. 3. This week, she asked Gov. Mike Parson for a commutation of her sentence. And if ever there was a case warranting such action, this would be one to consider.

Attorneys for McLaughlin, 49, have argued in her clemency application that her sentence should be commuted because she suffered abuse as a child, has a borderline intellectual disability and is remorseful.

The Star reported that she was abused by her birth parents, foster families and adoptive parents. Her adoptive home was described as a “house of horrors” where her father used a stun gun on her and locked food away.

At her 2006 trial, the jury was unable to come to a decision on McLaughlin’s sentence. The death penalty was imposed by the judge alone — a unilateral action possible only in Missouri and Indiana. Anti-death penalty activists argue that no individual should have the absolute power to decide that the state should kill a person. And we wholeheartedly agree.

A federal judge overturned McLaughlin’s conviction because of a “constitutionally ineffective” defense attorney. But that decision was reversed by an appeals court.

The governor’s office said McLaughlin’s application is under review. “These are not decisions that the Governor takes lightly, and the process is underway as it relates to the execution scheduled for January,” said spokeswoman Kelli Jones.

But the question of whether to put McLaughlin to death shouldn’t be Parson’s, because it is beyond dispute that this or any other execution serves no real purpose other than societal vengeance.

There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime any more effectively than a sentence of life behind bars. Much research has been done on this issue and the data shows that the 27 states with death penalty laws have murder rates no lower than the 23 that don’t execute people.

And according to the Pew Research Center, in many of the jurisdictions that authorize the death penalty, executions are rare. Thirteen of these states, along with the U.S. military, haven’t carried out an execution in a decade or more, including three — California, Oregon and Pennsylvania — where governors have imposed formal moratoriums on executions.

And in July 2021 Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a temporary halt on all federal executions after an unusually high number of death row inmates were put to death during the Trump administration.

So is Missouri a vengeful state? It seems so. Since 2017, Missouri has executed six people who had been convicted of murder. Last year, the state executed the intellectually disabled Ernest Johnson, even rejecting a plea from Pope Francis through a Vatican diplomatic representative who called on Parson to extend mercy as a “courageous recognition of the inalienable dignity of all human life.”

Missouri carried out the death penalty twice this year, including last month’s execution of Kevin Johnson Jr., convicted of killing St. Louis-area police Sgt. William Leo McEntee.

A common argument in favor of the death penalty is that the worst criminals — murderers — don’t deserve to live. But maybe they just don’t deserve to live among the rest of us.

Four years ago, before the state administered a lethal injection to convicted murderer Russell Bucklew, we said it was long past time to acknowledge the many reasons the state should stop executing prisoners. No exceptions.

Nothing has changed. There remains no good or valid rationale for keeping the government in the business of killing. Commuting Amber McLaughlin’s death sentence to spend her life locked up is the only just course of action for a civilized society.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 8, 2023.

Editorial: Legal sports betting could be a winner, but only with video gambling reform

Missouri today is among the few states that haven’t legalized sports betting. Surrounded on all sides by states that regulate and tax such betting, Missouri is essentially leaving money on the table. Legislation this session to change that deserves careful consideration — but only if it’s paired with reforms to tax the rogue video gambling machines that have proliferated all over the state without regulation or taxation in the absence of coherent statutes governing them.

There are certainly societal downsides to gambling, but the debate over whether it should be legal is effectively over. For better or worse, America has decided that gambling, like alcohol, marijuana and other once-banned vices, should be available to adults who want it. Missouri, like most states, already regulates and taxes legal gambling in the form of the state lottery and the casino industry. The best way to mitigate those societal downsides is to ensure the games are in fact well-regulated and that the tax rate is high enough that the benefit to the taxpayers outweighs the social costs (enough to fund gambling-addiction treatment programs in addition to substantial new money to education, for example).

But these are exactly the things that aren’t happening in relation to the thousands of unregulated video gambling terminals in bars and gas stations around the state. Until that open flouting of state gaming laws is reined in, it will continue to drain away tax revenue the state gets from the legitimate gambling industry. Any new, legalized sports-betting market would be setting up shop under a similar disadvantage.

We have previously examined and dismissed the strained arguments of video gambling purveyors, who claim their products are mere entertainment rather than gambling. That’s nonsense. Their only real argument is Jefferson City clout. As a result, the Missouri Legislature has been paralyzed on the issue, leaving local prosecutors hesitant to confront these plainly illegal games without more specific guidance from the state.

New legislation in the just-opened 2023 legislative session seeks to remedy that by either banning or regulating and taxing the video games. At least one bill would legalize and tax it in conjunction with creating a legal sports-gambling industry — a reasonable pairing, since expanding the legal gambling industry in any way makes little practical sense as long as these untaxed video gambling scofflaws are still siphoning money away from that industry.

Whether the video gambling and sports betting should be in the same bill or in separate ones moving concurrently is a question for the legislative sausage-makers. But the Legislature should absolutely not make any change to state gaming laws that doesn’t address the video issue once and for all. Legalizing sports gambling in Missouri is an idea whose time has come — but legislators will be betting against its success if they do it without calling the bluff of illegal video gambling.