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12/13/1998
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State holds off execution
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State holds off execution


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CNS) Opponents of the death penalty have raised questions about a decision by the Missouri Supreme Court to postpone until February an execution originally planned for one of the days Pope John Paul II is to be in St. Louis.

The court on Nov. 12 had set Jan. 27 as the date for executing Darrell Mease, 42. Four days later without explanation it changed the date to Feb. 10. Missouri usually conducts executions beginning at 12:01 a.m.

The Pope arrives in St. Louis Jan. 26, following five days of events in Mexico. He will spend about 30 hours in St. Louis before departing for Rome the evening of Jan. 27.

``Anybody can speculate as to why the date was changed but only those inside the court know why,'' Louis DeFeo, executive director and general counsel for the Missouri Catholic Conference, told Catholic News Service Dec. 3.

``The issue is not whether the Pope is here,'' DeFeo said. ``The issue is that we regard capital punishment as taking of a human life unjustifiably.''

He said all capital punishment does is ``teach a society violence instead of teaching it how to reconcile matter through peaceful means.''

Pope John Paul II has repeatedly said that cases where the death penalty would be justified are ``very rare, if not practically nonexistent.''

The Missouri Catholic Conference, as it had done in every capital punishment case, had filed a brief asking the court to spare Mease's life.

Mease was convicted in 1990 of ambushing and fatally shooting his alleged former drug-making partner, the man's wife and their handicapped grandson. After his arrest he confessed to shooting the three with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Tracy Synan, spokeswoman for the Missouri Supreme Court, told The St.

Louis Post Dispatch, ``It's anybody's guess why the date was changed. I can't speculate on it.''

But Kent Gipson, a Missouri attorney and death penalty opponent, told Catholic News Service that the court wanted to avoid calling attention to ``to the death-penalty machine'' with the Pope in town.

``In the 10 years or so that I have been handling capital cases, I've never known the Missouri Supreme Court to change an execution date for a nonlitigation reason,'' he said in a Dec. 4 interview with CNS.

Changing the date ``is pretty good circumstantial evidence'' the court did not want the international scrutiny of Missouri's death penalty heightened by the Pope's visit, he said.

``They would rather do it in secret at midnight, in the bowels of the prison, and keep it as their own dirty little secret,'' he said.


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