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Death Penalty Critics Use Man's Sentence To Push Law Change

Death penalty opponents have cited a Missouri man's recent sentence in efforts to change state law regarding capital punishment.

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is pushing state lawmakers to prevent judges from sending criminals to death row without a jury's approval. The group cited the case of Craig Wood, who is currently on death row, the Springfield News-Leader reported .

Wood was convicted of first-degree murder in November for the 2014 abduction, rape and killing of a 10-year-old girl. The jury couldn't agree on Wood's punishment after the guilty verdict, but a judge still gave him a death sentence in January. The other option was life in prison without parole.

Wood's case was one of two that Missourians for Alternatives used to advocate for a bill that would take away the capital punishment option if juries can't agree. A legislative committee unanimously approved such a bill in March.

The other case the group cited was related to Marvin Rice, a former sheriff's deputy and prison worker accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. A lone juror advocated for capital punishment in Rice's case, putting the decision in the hands of a judge who agreed on the death penalty.

"In both of these cases, two individual judges imposed death an undermined the role of the juries," the advocate group said this week. "Both Wood and Rice's death sentences raise questions about judicial override in Missouri and its constitutionality under the Sixth Amendment."

Missouri is one of only two states where judges can give death sentences if a jury deadlocks, according to the group. Other states in such a situation choose a sentence of life in prison.