Attorneys for man awaiting sentencing say Missouri’s death penalty law is unconstitutional

Attorneys for a man awaiting sentencing have filed a motion to declare part of Missouri’s law on the death penalty unconstitutional.

In June, Ian McCarthy, 45, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2017 shooting of Clinton police officer Gary Lee Michael, Jr.

The jury could not reach a sentencing decision, leaving McCarthy’s fate up to Jackson County Judge Marco Roldan.

Missouri is one of two states that allows a judge to hand down the death penalty. The other is Indiana.

In a seven-page motion, attorneys for McCarthy said, “There is a strong national consensus against judge-imposed death sentences.” They also said allowing a judge to sentence someone to capital punishment is a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Henry County Prosecuting Attorney LaChrisha Gray said the court will make a formal response to the motion on Friday during the sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors seek death penalty

On Aug. 6, 2017, Michael pulled McCarthy over in Clinton, about 75 miles southeast of Kansas City. McCarthy got out of his vehicle, shot the officer with a high-powered rifle and fled. A manhunt unfolded and McCarthy was captured two days later in rural Henry County.

The trial venue was moved from Henry County to Jackson County Circuit Court and the jury was selected from Platte County. Opening statements began June 20, and the jury delivered its verdict on June 26. The penalty phase began the next day. But on July 1, the jury told the judge it could not reach a unanimous decision though it did find that a death sentence could be appropriate, according to a news release from Gray.

Attorneys for McCarthy said in nearly every other state and on the federal level, their client would have automatically been given a life sentence since the jury could not unanimously agree that the death penalty was appropriate.

“Unanimous jury agreement is necessary to ensure that death sentences are imposed reliably, on the most culpable defendants, and reflect the judgment of the community,” the motion said.

It went on to say that other changes have been made to the death penalty “to determine whether the punishment or practice is consistent with contemporary standards of decency.” That includes evolving standards in executing juveniles or those with intellectual disabilities.

Allowing judges to impose the death penalty makes Missouri “a clear outlier,” McCarthy’s attorneys said.

Missouri has carried out four executions this year, including the Jan. 3 execution of Amber McLaughlin, 49. She was convicted of killing her ex-girlfriend in St. Louis County in 2003.

In her 2006 murder trial, the jury could not reach a decision on sentencing and rejected three of the aggravating circumstances prosecutors presented in arguing for the death penalty.

The judge handed down capital punishment.

In the lead up to McLaughlin’s execution, several groups as well as seven judges took issue with what they called “a flaw in Missouri’s capital sentencing scheme.”

McCarthy will be sentenced by Roldan at 11 a.m. Friday at the Jackson County courthouse in Independence.

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