Prosecutor: Death penalty system unfair to victims
Monday, January 28, 2013
PLATTE CITY, Mo. -- Landis Shippert goes down into his basement every day, turns on some light music and spends a few quality moments near the urn holding the ashes of his daughter.
When Quintin O'Dell killed 22-year-old Alyssa Shippert in May 2011, Landis lost his youngest daughter, a well-liked young woman who soon before her death was inquiring about a mission trip to Joplin, Mo., to help victims of the deadly tornado.
O'Dell admitted Thursday to hacking Shippert to death with a hatchet, and seven months later slicing open another woman with a razor so badly that her intestines fell out onto her living room floor. The second woman, who also was sexually assaulted by O'Dell, survived and was able to identify her attacker for authorities.
Landis Shippert, of Platte City, thinks O'Dell should die for his crimes, but he said the prospect of spending the next several years in courtrooms listening to graphic details of his daughter's brutal slaying was too much for his family to bear.
"I'm a very faithful person and the Bible tells us we have to forgive," Shippert said. "One day I wanted to hate him, but I just can't. His family has lost a member, too."
Platte County prosecutor Eric Zahnd said he accepted O'Dell's offer to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence to spare the Shippert family the continued nightmare of a capital murder trial. He said the state's death penalty process "puts victims' families in a tragic dilemma."
Open the door
Zahnd, president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said the organization is looking for ways to streamline the system and cut out some of the appeals -- especially in cases like O'Dell's in which the defendant confessed and was guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.
He said a bill filed by state Sen. Joe Keaveny, a St. Louis Democrat, to address costs of death penalty cases could open the door for a broader discussion of the state's capital punishment system.
Keaveny, a death penalty opponent, agreed that if his bill is approved, the results of an audit could lead to further discourse.
"If it's as expensive as I think it is, I would hope it sparks a much broader debate on the viability of the death penalty," Keaveny said. "We need to take some of the emotion out of criminal prosecutions, and in my mind, the death penalty is strictly driven by emotion.
"I'm not saying some people don't deserve to die for what they do. I'm saying, who am I to kill them?"
O'Dell's public defender, Thomas Jacquinot, said he has handled death penalty cases for 15 years and has seen instances in which prosecutors overreached by insisting on the death penalty. But that wasn't the case this time.
"The prosecutor saw this as somebody who had done some very serious, graphic crimes that appeared to be perhaps the early stages of a pattern," Jacquinot said. "I think it was appropriate to settle the case, but if they had filed for the death penalty, I don't think you'd consider it overreaching by any stretch."
Sean O'Brien, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who was chief public defender in Kansas City, Mo., from 1985 through 1989, said Zahnd apparently doesn't remember efforts in Missouri decades ago to streamline the death penalty system. He said in the 1980s, the state experimented with "egregious time limits" that created chaos in the public defender system because there were not enough qualified death penalty attorneys to represent those on death row.
O'Brien, who noted three men who were sentenced to death in Missouri later were exonerated, said Zahnd's argument also ignores the already-overwhelming caseloads being handled by the public defender system.
"The government spends vast resources, but a public defender has to work cases into a budget stretched too thin to begin with, assigned to lawyers whose caseloads are way too high," he said.