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story.lead_photo.caption About a dozen people gathered Tuesday to express their views on the death penalty as they protest the impending executions of three federal inmates: Lisa Montgomery, who has a temporary stay; Corey Johnson; and Dustin Higgs. They are from Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a statewide organization working to repeal the death penalty in Missouri. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

As a small group of people Tuesday in downtown Jefferson City protested three scheduled federal executions, at least one among the group hoped the change in presidential administration will lead to changes in the nation's policy toward the death penalty.

"We as a people, as a government, are willing to be pre-meditated murderers," Jeff Stack, of Pierpont, said of what America's willingness to carry out executions says about its society.

Stack stood near the U.S. Post Office and the Missouri state Capitol on High Street with almost a dozen others protesting three scheduled federal executions — one, of Lisa Montgomery, on hold at the time of the protest after a judge ordered a hearing on whether Montgomery is mentally competent; however, the execution was later carried out. Two others, of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs, are on hold because both tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

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President Donald Trump resumed federal executions last year after a 17-year pause.

There have been 47 federal executions since 1927, including the 10 federal inmates put to death since July, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

There are 52 federal prisoners on death row, according to The Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization critical of the death penalty.

Stack, with the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, said he and others protesting Montgomery, Johnson and Higgs' scheduled executions want to raise awareness of their names, but also want to remember their victims.

"There's nothing we can do about the crimes they've committed," he said, and more victims should not be created.

Barbara Ross and Carolyn Saucier, both of Jefferson City, also spoke out against the death penalty Tuesday — neither a member of any particular group, though Saucier noted she counts herself as a Christian.

Ross said if the death penalty is the best society can do, that's a dangerous place to be.

"Everyone is more than the worst they ever did," she said. Tearful at times, she added, "We cannot kill to show killing is wrong."

"I wish we could move more towards forgiveness," Saucier said.

Stack hopes President-elect Joe Biden will act in opposition to the federal death penalty. He cited a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois and a Democratic congresswoman from Massachusetts have filed legislation to end the federal death penalty.

Stack also hopes Gov. Mike Parson will change his stance on the death penalty.

Parson allowed the state to proceed with the execution of Walter Barton in May, who was put to death for the 1991 killing of Gladys Kuehler, an 81-year-old manager of a mobile home park in Ozark, near Springfield, who was found beaten, sexually assaulted and stabbed more than 50 times.

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Stack and others protested Barton's death, too — that time opting for a protest by vehicular caravan around the state Capitol.

Missouri resumed executions in 1989 and has since 1976 executed 90 inmates, according to The Marshall Project.

The crimes for which six federal inmates are on death row also were committed in Missouri, according to The Death Penalty Information Center: killings of bank guards during armed robberies; the killing of a fellow prisoner; the killing of a former girlfriend after an escape from detention; and the killing of a woman to steal her unborn baby, the crime for which Montgomery has been sentenced to die.

The Associated Press contributed information to this report.


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