- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

CLINTON, Mo. (AP) - Defense attorneys for a man charged in the death a 12-year-old Missouri girl are fighting against a possible death sentence even before the man goes on trial.

A circuit judge heard testimony Friday on motions challenging the prosecution’s notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Bobby Bourne Jr., 36, of Lockwood, who is charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in the 2013 death of Adriaunna Horton of Golden City. His trial is scheduled for July. Prosecutors say she was kidnapped from a park and killed on a farm near Golden City.

Thomas Jacquinot, a capital murder case attorney with the state’s public defender’s office, filed the motions to lay the groundwork for a possible appeal on constitutional grounds if Bourne is convicted and sentenced to death, The Joplin Globe reported (https://bit.ly/1Tec8eE ).

Circuit Judge James Journey indicated at a hearing in October that he doesn’t believe he has the authority to overturn the death penalty law. He said Friday he would rule on the motions soon.

Wanda Foglia, a professor of law and criminal justice studies at Rowan University in New Jersey, was the only witness at the hearing. Foglia is an investigator with the Capital Jury Project, a 14-state study funded by the National Science Foundation. She discussed seven critical findings of the project, which surveyed 1,198 people who served as jurors in the guilt and punishment phases of capital murder trials.

The study found:

- About half the jurors said they made decisions on punishment of defendants before hearing any testimony or evidence in the punishment phase.

- Jury selection doesn’t remove jurors who feel the death penalty is “the only acceptable punishment” for the type of murder case they are hearing. More than half the jurors considered it the only acceptable punishment for defendants with prior murder convictions, for premeditated murders and for murders with multiple victims.

- Those jurors displayed significant rates of failure to understand jury instructions.

- Many jurors erroneously believe the death penalty is mandatory in certain cases. In Missouri, 48.3 percent of the jurors surveyed believed it was mandatory if the defendant’s conduct was proved to be “heinous, vile or depraved,” and 29.3 percent believed it was required if the defendant could be shown to pose a future danger to others. The Supreme Court has ruled that there are no mandatory requirements of the death penalty.

- Capital jurors often don’t understand that the primary responsibility for sentencing rests with them.

- Race strongly influences the process. Defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim is white and chances are highest when the victim is white and the defendant is black.

- Jurors tend not to believe that a sentence of life without parole, the only other sentence possible in capital murder cases in Missouri, actually means life without parole.

Foglia said that in Missouri cases, 46 percent of jurors were deciding in favor of the death penalty in the guilt phase of the trial. Jurors who took premature stances were more likely to believe the defendant was guilty, to think the death penalty was the only acceptable punishment and to have inappropriate discussions of their penalty inclinations during deliberations in the guilt phase.

She also said capital jurors also frequently do not understand how to handle mitigating and aggravating circumstances presented in the punishment phase.

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, https://www.joplinglobe.com

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