Missouri Supreme Court

In the Execution Business, Missouri Is Surging


Defense lawyers call it a crisis; the state says it’s just doing its job.
Since Texas carried out the country’s 1st lethal injection in 1982, the state has performed far more executions than any other state. To date, 528 men and women have been put to death in Texas, more than the total in the next 8 states combined.
But viewed from a slightly different angle, Texas has lost its place as the epicenter of the American death penalty, at least for the moment.
Since November 2013, when Missouri began performing executions at a rate of almost 1 per month, the state has outstripped Texas in terms of the execution rate per capita. In 2014, both states executed 10 people, but Texas has more than 4 times the population of Missouri. This year, the difference is not quite as stark (Texas: 10, Missouri: 5) but Missouri still ranks number 1. The state that has become the center of so many conversations about criminal justice through the courts and cops of Ferguson is now the center of one more.
Why?
The politicians, judges and prosecutors who keep the system running at full steam simply say the death penalty is a good thing and the pace of executions is a sign that nothing is gumming up the pipes of justice. Defense attorneys are more eager to talk about the reasons for the current situation. They tend to use the word “crisis.”
The Drugs
The most important reason for the rise in Missouri’s rate of execution is also the most mysterious. As other states have dealt with a nationwide shortage in lethal-injection drugs by turning to new and experimental combinations – leading to grisly botched executions (Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, and Joseph Wood in Arizona) and lawsuits that have slowed down the pace of executions – Missouri has managed to get a steady supply of pentobarbital, a common execution drug.
Like their counterparts in all death-penalty states, Missouri officials are pushing in court to keep the source of their pentobarbital a secret. Texas has also exclusively used pentobarbital for executions in recent years, but has struggled to find a compounding pharmacy that will produce it. In Missouri, corrections officials had also struggled, but now have managed to stockpile the drug.
“We’re the only state in the union with no trouble getting pentobarbital,” says Cheryl Pilate, a Kansas City attorney who has represented death-row inmates. The pentobarbital made by small, generally unregulated compounding pharmacies – the choice in Texas – does not have a long shelf-life, leading Pilate and her colleagues to wonder whether Missouri officials are getting the drug from a veterinary supplier (the drug is often used to euthanize animals) or a manufacturer from overseas. Attorney General Chris Koster recently said in a court filing, quoted by BuzzFeed, that “Missouri uses pentobarbital as the lethal chemical in its execution process, but does not admit nor deny the chemical now used is compounded as opposed to manufactured.”
The Governor and the Attorney General
Attorney General Koster, as well as Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, are both Democrats and both outspoken supporters of the death penalty. Nixon himself was the attorney general before Koster, so both have overseen the state’s side in fighting the appeals of death-row inmates, pushing them along toward execution. Koster has suggested that the state set up a laboratory to make its own supply of lethal-injection drugs.
Nixon has the power to commute death sentences to life in prison, but he has done so once in his 6 1/2 years as governor, and he provided no explanation for why. Many political commentators have speculated that Nixon and Koster, as Democrats in a primarily conservative state – where the electoral votes went to Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election – use executions to establish their tough-on-crime bonafides. “As a Democrat in public office, you would lose a lot of votes by not being enthusiastically in support of the death penalty,” says Joseph Luby, an attorney with the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic in Kansas City.
Nixon and Koster’s support for the death penalty fits a historical pattern of death-penalty support among blue governors in red states. In the 1990s, Texas Governor Ann Richards never commuted a death sentence and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton famously flew home from the presidential campaign trail to preside over an execution of a man missing part of his brain. (Nixon had his own similar case earlier this year.) At the same time, Republicans in states near Missouri – Governor John Kasich in Ohio and former Governor Mike Huckabee in Arkansas – have regularly granted clemency to death-row inmates.
Nixon’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the politics of the death penalty, while Koster’s press secretary, Nanci Gonder, replied that he “has consistently supported the death penalty for the most serious murder convictions” and “1 of the duties of the Attorney General is to ensure that legal punishments for violating Missouri’s criminal laws are carried out.”
The Courts
Sean O’Brien, a professor at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, spent much of his career defending death-row inmates and recalled a case in which the judges at the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the prosecution. In 2003, the court ruled in favor of a man who committed a murder before turning 18, a decision that was later ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court and became the basis for a nationwide ban on the execution of juveniles.
Missouri Supreme Court judges are appointed by the governor, and in 2013 Governor Nixon selected Judge Mary Russell to be chief justice, overseeing the setting of execution dates. Her court set up the 1-a-month schedule in November of that year. When she stepped down in July this year, she told several reporters that the pace of executions picked up because they had been on hold during the lethal-injection drug shortage. Once the state had the drugs, she said, “there were a number of people who had been backlogged whose appeals were exhausted.”
“It’s required by law that the Supreme Court shall set execution dates,” she added. “It’s not that we agree or disagree with the death penalty.”
The Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has final say over death cases in Missouri, rarely stops executions, according to O’Brien, the law professor. “We’ve got a situation where all 3” – the governor, attorney general, and supreme court – “are lickety-split gung-ho on this, and the federal courts aren’t stopping them.”
The Defense Bar
During a short phone interview last week, the Missouri capital-defense attorneys Cheryl Pilate and Lindsay Runnels used the words “crisis,” “disaster,” “horrific” and “overwhelming” as they described their “extremely small and embattled defense bar.” They see their cohort’s rushed work and missed deadlines and paltry resources as signs of broader problems with public defense in the state. Missouri was ranked 49th by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association in per-capita spending on indigent defense in 2009.
My colleague Ken Armstrong has chronicled the experience of one overburdened defense lawyer who dealt with the executions of 2 clients over 2 months at the end of 2013. In a March 2015 letter to the Missouri Supreme Court, members of the American Bar Association Death Penalty Assessment Team wrote, “The current pace of executions is preventing counsel for the condemned from performing competently.”
“You live in a perpetual state of tension,” Pilate said, “thinking your client could be next.”
This state of affairs may not last. A pending lawsuit over the secrecy of the lethal injection drugs might force the state to divulge its source, allowing for more litigation that could lead to a slow-down. The Missouri Supreme Court will soon have a new chief justice. A future Republican governor or attorney general could follow the lead of Kasich or Huckabee. The defense bar may get more help from national anti-death penalty groups now that the state is ground zero. For now, though, as the death penalty declines nationally, Missouri is headed in the other direction.
Source: themarshallproject.org, August 31, 2015

Missouri: Court denies motions from man set to be executed Tuesday


The Missouri Supreme Court has denied the latest legal challenges from a man scheduled to be executed Tuesday for raping and killing a 15-year-old Kansas City girl in 1989.
The judges ruled Friday to overrule a motion that sought a stay of execution for Roderick Nunley.
The court also rejected his request for a writ of habeas corpus, which allows prisoners to challenge their convictions on constitutional grounds.
Nunley was 1 of 2 men who pleaded guilty and received the death penalty in the death of Ann Harrison.
   Michael Taylor (left), Roderick Nunley (right)    She was waiting for a school bus in front of her home when she was abducted.
Michael Taylor was executed for the same crime in 2014.
Source: Associated Press, August 30, 2015

Missouri Gov. on Capital Punishment Plan: ‘We Don’t Have A Gas Chamber’


ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Less than a week after Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster suggested the state may need to reinstate the gas chamber as a form of capital punishment, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is hesitant to lend his support to the plan.

During a press conference in St. Louis Tuesday, Nixon was asked about Koster’s suggestion.

“We don’t have a gas chamber,” he said. “I don’t want to get into it. Once again, most of those issues involving it are part and parcel of what is going on in the courts about the various methods and I think it’s best handled by…we’ll just let the judicial branch deal with that.”

Missouri Director of Corrections George Lombardi also refused to weigh in Tuesday.

“I have no comment,” he said. “Period.”

Koster says that Missouri statutes allow two options for executions: lethal injection and death by gas. Koster’s comments come amid his growing frustration over the Missouri Supreme Court’s refusal to set execution dates until lethal injection issues are resolved.

“The Missouri death penalty statute has been, in my opinion, unnecessarily entangled in the courts for over a decade,” Koster told The Associated Press Wednesday. (AP, July 10, 2013)

Missouri AG says state may have to use gas chamber


By JIM SALTER Associated Press
Posted: 07/03/2013 01:31:24 PM PDT

ST. LOUIS—With drugs needed for lethal injection in short supply and courts wrangling over how to execute prisoners without them, Missouri’s attorney general is floating one possible solution: Bring back the gas chamber.

In court filings and interviews this week, Attorney General Chris Koster noted that Missouri statutes allow two options for executions: lethal injection and death by gas. Koster’s comments come amid his growing frustration over the Missouri Supreme Court’s refusal to set execution dates until lethal injection issues are resolved.

“The Missouri death penalty statute has been, in my opinion, unnecessarily entangled in the courts for over a decade,” Koster said Wednesday in an email exchange with The Associated Press.

Asked about concerns by some who say using lethal gas could violate condemned inmates’ constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment, Koster responded: “The premeditated murder of an innocent Missourian is cruel and unusual punishment. The lawful implementation of the death penalty, following a fair and reasoned jury trial, is not.”

Missouri used gas to execute 38 men and one woman from 1938 to 1965. After a 24-year hiatus, the death penalty resumed in 1989. Since then, 68 men—all convicted murderers—have been executed in the state, all by lethal injection. But as concerns were raised in the courts about the lethal injection process, Missouri has carried out just two executions since 2005.

A return to lethal gas would create an expense because Missouri no longer has a gas chamber. Previous executions by gas took place at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Prisoners were moved out of that prison a decade ago and it is now a tourist attraction—complete with tours of what used to be the gas chamber.

Like other states with the death penalty, Missouri for years used a three-drug mixture to execute inmates. But those drugs are no longer being made available for executions, leaving states to scramble for solutions.

Last year, Missouri announced plans to use propofol, the anesthetic blamed for pop star Michael Jackson’s 2009 death—even though the drug hasn’t been used to execute prisoners in the U.S. and its potential for lethal injection is under scrutiny by the courts.

A 2012 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City on behalf of 21 Missouri death row inmates claimed the use of propofol would be cruel and unusual punishment.

In an interview last week, Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell said the court is “waiting for resolution” from the U.S. District Court.

Koster on Monday asked the Missouri Supreme Court to set execution dates for two long-serving inmates, arguing that time is running short to use a limited, nearly expired supply of propofol.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, said a few other proposals have been made for states to use the gas chamber or the electric chair, but they’ve gone nowhere.

“It’s unlikely that states would go back to these older methods, and if they did I’m not sure they would be upheld” in the courts, he said.

Rita Linhardt, chairwoman of the board for Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, questioned the practicality of the gas chamber.

“The gas chamber has been dismantled in Missouri, so from a practical point of view I don’t know how that could be done,” Linhardt said. “I would think that would be a considerable cost and expense for the state to rebuild the machinery of death.”

MISSOURI – Supreme Court must commute death sentence – Reginald Clemons


October 17, 2012 http://www.stlamerican.com

At the new evidentiary hearing for Missouri death row inmate Reginald Clemons held September 17-20 in St. Louis, Judge Michael Manners reluctantly accepted into evidence an affidavit by David Keys submitted by Clemons’ trial counsel. Keys is an expert on proportionality in the death sentence in Missouri, so was in effect offering a new legal opinion, rather than new evidence, which Manners had been ordered to find for the Missouri Supreme Court. “I feel the Missouri Supreme Court doesn’t need my advice on the law or the advice of Mr. Keys,” Judge Manners drily noted. “Proportionality is a question of law. The Supreme Court will give it the weight it wants to give it.”

We urge the Missouri Supreme Court to give Keys’ expert testimony a critical mass of weight. Keys’ statistical analysis of death sentence data shows that the 1993 jury that sentenced Clemons to death overlooked established racial bias in death sentencing, as well as four mitigating factors: Clemons’ youth at the time of the murders (he was 19) and the facts that he was a first-time offender, had no weapon and did not know the victims, Julie Kerry and Robin Kerry.

Based on his analysis of 591 Missouri first-degree homicide cases, an African-American offender (like Clemons) charged with the first-degree murder of a white victim (like the Kerry sisters) has a 37 percent chance of receiving the death penalty. By contrast, a white offender who killed a white victim will receive the death penalty 32.6 percent of the time, and a black-on-black murderer has a 23.8 percent chance of being sentenced to death. The variable of race should have no bearing on whether the state executes a murderer, and this established racial bias is sufficient grounds for commuting Clemons’ death sentence (and, indeed, for abolishing the death sentence).

Putting aside race, Clemons’ death sentence was disproportionate because the jury did not weigh any of the mitigating factors that data show convince jurors to forego the death penalty. Keys notes, “Out of all of the capital murder cases that I analyzed in Missouri in the 30 years from 1978 to 2008, other than Mr. Clemons, there is no case where a jury has imposed the death penalty when all four factors are present.” Further, Clemons was convicted as an accomplice. Were Clemons to be executed, Keys testified, he would be only the second defendant nationwide and the first in Missouri to receive a death sentence who was accused as an accomplice and had no prior criminal record.

It should make the Supreme Court uneasy to precede with an unprecedented execution in a case as flawed as the Clemons case. We believe the evidence is clear that Clemonsconfession (to rape, which is not a capital offence) was coerced and scripted in part. Prosecutor Nels Moss admitted on the witness stand at Clemons’ hearing to revising a police report about the murders when he was not present for the interrogation reported, and he withheld from Clemons’ 1993 trial counsel the evidence that he tampered with the police report. Moss’ star witness, Thomas Cummins, perjured himself when he claimed that he was forced to jump from the Chain of Rocks Bridge after the murders; Cummins was uninjured and his hair was even dry not long after he allegedly plummeted 90 feet to the Mississippi River. This fabrication was the basis of Moss’ closing statement in the jury trial and continues to be regurgitated as fact by the court that must now decide on Clemons’ fate.

The investigation and prosecution of Clemons were simply too flawed to proceed with an execution of a 19-year-old first-time offender convicted as an accomplice in racially disparate murders with no weapon where he did not know the victims. Whatever Reginald Clemons did on the Chain of Rocks Bridge on April 4, 1991, by no means should the State of Missouri have his blood on our hands. The court must commute his death sentence.

MISSOURI – Hearing starts Monday in Mo. death row case – REGINALD CLEMONS


Update September 21, 2012 http://www.stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • A special review of Reginald Clemons’ death sentence in the 1991 Chain of Rocks Bridge double murder case ended for the week on Thursday.

Lawyers for both sides intend to call at least one more witness each, which will be done through depositions out of the public eye.

The attorneys will then submit legal briefs by Dec. 1 to Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Michael Manners, who the Missouri Supreme Court appointed as “special master” to review the case.

After that, the parties may reconvene for final statements before the judge. Manners is expected to take several months before submitting all the evidence and a final recommendation to the high court, which would then begin its process of reviewing Clemons’ appeal.

Ultimately, the court could decide anything from upholding the conviction or vacating it, to ordering a new trial.

After the hearing Thursday, family of the victims, Robin and Julie Kerry, said they are one step closer in their more than 20-year wait for closure.

“I’m glad, for all intents and purposes, it’s over,” said Virginia Kerry, mother of the two young women. “Now I can start burying everything again. I don’t have to deal with these people who say he’s innocent.”

For Clemons’ family, it’s also been a hard journey.

Bishop Reynolds Thomas, of the New Life Worship Complex, said fighting his son’s case has plunged him into bankruptcy. But it was worth it, he said. He still firmly believes his son is innocent.

“After 20 years, we took it as far as we could,” he said. “Now we just take it one day at a time.”

Thursday’s hearing brought several state witnesses who testified they saw Clemons without any apparent injuries after the police interrogation in which he claims his confession was beaten out of him. Among those who took the stand were a fingerprint technician and a family friend.

Several lab technicians also were called to speak to the testing of biological evidence. Items tested included a rape kit taken from Julie Kerry, a used condom found on the bridge, and pants and boxers taken from Marlin Gray, one of three men convicted of the crime separately from Clemons.

The evidence was re-tested in recent years with new DNA technology.

Stacey Bolinger, of the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab, said the rape kit did not have sufficient DNA evidence to test. Julie Kerry’s body had been in the Mississippi River for three weeks and was moderately decomposed when two fisherman found it. Robin Kerry’s body was never recovered.

There was male DNA from at least two individuals on Gray’s boxers and from at least three individuals on his pants. Clemons could not be eliminated as a source of it, she said.

Also on the clothing was the same female DNA that was found on the condom. Kim Gorman, formerly of the St. Louis police crime lab, testified that DNA had “a very high likelihood” of belonging to one of the Kerry sisters.

Update September 20, 2012 http://www.news.com.au

On the second day of a special hearing before a judge in Missouri, Clemons, 41, said that when charges were read against him in 1991 a judge noticed signs he had been hit and ordered him to be examined in hospital, said Laura Moye of Amnesty International-USA.

Clemons‘ attorneys maintain that Clemons only admitted raping one of his victims under police duress. He later reversed himself.

“The only time they stopped hitting me was when I agreed to make a taped statement,” he told STLToday.com.

“When I was being beaten, I wasn’t counting.”

“His counsel interrogated him on the alleged brutality when he testified the first night,” court spokesman Matt Murphy said.

“He was cross examined by the State, then the State played a 20 minute taped confession he made that night about what happened that night.”

Clemons was found guilty in 1993 of the murder of two sisters, aged 19 and 20, who allegedly were pushed from a bridge into the Mississippi River in 1991.

The events occurred at Chain of Rocks Bridge, a popular hangout at night for youths from Saint Louis, where Clemons and three friends came into contact with the two sisters, Julie and Robin Kerry, and their cousin Thomas Cummins.

The group Clemons was with is alleged to have raped the women and robbed Cummins before pushing them off the bridge.

Amnesty International has pushed for the state to commute Clemons’ death sentence because of allegations of police coercion, prosecutorial misconduct and a “stacked” predominantly white jury.

A former lawyer for Clemons testified Monday that he had not been informed about the existence of DNA samples taken from one of the bodies recovered from the Mississippi

September 16, 2012 http://www.sacbee.com/

T. LOUIS — The effort to free Reginald Clemons from Missouri’s death row goes to a St. Louis courtroom starting Monday.

Clemons was one of four men convicted in the 1991 killings of two St. Louis-area sisters, 20-year-old Julie Kerry and 19-year-old Robin Kerry. Both girls, along with their visiting male cousin, were thrown from an abandoned Mississippi River bridge. The cousin, Thomas Cummins, survived.

Clemons confessed to the killings, but later recanted. His lawyers say the confession was beaten out of him by police interrogators.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners will oversee the hearing. He will then issue a report to the Missouri Supreme Court, which will decide whether Clemons should get a new trial. The Supreme Court could also decide to commute Clemons’ death sentence, said Matt Murphy,spokesman for the St. Louis Circuit Court.

Murphy said it will likely be several months before the Supreme Court makes a decision.

Clemons is expected to be in the courtroom for the hearing, which will proceed much like a trial. Murphy is expected to testify Monday or Tuesday. The trial is expected to last five days.

Clemons’ case has drawn international attention. Laura Moye, director of Amnesty InternationalUSA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, is expected to attend the hearing.

Amnesty International has cited what it sees as several concerns about the case, concerns that include potential police misconduct, a lack of physical evidence and inconsistent witness testimony.

Moye has also argued that racial bias may have played a role in his conviction; the victims were white and the defendants were black.

New evidence could be presented at the hearing. In 2010, the Missouri Attorney General’s office found lab reports and physical evidence, including a rape kit, taken during an exam of one of the victim’s remains. Those findings have never been released publicly, but could come up during the hearing.

The Kerry sisters took Cummins, then 19, to the unused Chain of Rocks Bridge on the night of April 5, 1991, to show him a poem they had placed on the span. They happened upon a group of young men. The girls were raped and all three were pushed off the bridge.

Clemons and Marlin Gray were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Gray was executed in 2005. Clemons was just weeks from execution in 2009 when a federal appeals court delayed it.

Another of the suspects, Antonio Richardson, had his death sentence overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1993 because of procedural errors.

The fourth suspect, Daniel Winfrey, testified for the prosecution. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He has been released from prison and is on parole.

MISSOURI – Attorney General requests execution dates for 9 men on death row


May 19, 2012  Source : http://www.kctv5.com

JEFFERSON CITY, MO

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has requested the Missouri Supreme Court set execution dates for nine men on death row.

Koster has requested the dates, saying there are no legal obstacles remaining to carrying out the men’s sentence.

“Missouri does not know the cost of executions yet we now have 19-plus men waiting execution. We can’t find the money in the budget for education, public safety, roads etc. and yet are willing to stay with a public policy that is likely costing the state millions. Missouri would do well to end the death penalty and to focus resources instead on solving more cases of violent crime, taking violent offenders off the streets and providing meaningful support for victims and their families,” Kathleen Holmes, state coordinator of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said in a release.

One of the nine men included in the list is Leon Taylor.

Astrid Martin does her best to keep herself busy, still trying to forget what happened to her family nearly two decades ago. 1994 was a very difficult year for her – she lost a mother to cancer and, just a few weeks later, a husband to a bullet at the hands of Taylor. All these years later, Martin still struggles with the grief.

“If you have a tragedy it’s not like a push button where you are OK the next day. You are very emotionally sick. I lost my mother and my husband and almost my little girl. That’s a big chunk to take away at once,” Martin said.

It was April 1994 at a gas station in Independence, MO. Taylor and two others held up Robert Newton, Martin’s husband. Even though Newton turned over the cash, Taylor killed him right in front of his step-daughter.

“He said, ‘Listen pal, don’t shoot. I got my little girl here and I don’t want to see her dead,'” Martin’s daughter said while on the stand during Taylor’s trial as she recounted what happened.

At Taylor’s murder trial, then 8-year-old Sara took the stand and captured the hearts of the entire city.

“I turned around and saw my dad on the floor,” Sarah said when an attorney asked what she saw after she heard the big bang.

Taylor then turned the gun on the girl, but the weapon jammed. All these years later, Martin is convinced God was watching over her daughter.

Sarah is now happily married with four kids and her mother wants to thank everyone for the outpouring of support she and her daughter received all those years ago.

“They were so supportive, they were so supportive and, to me they wrote letters for years and I want to thank you all for being so wonderful to us,” Martin said.

Martin said Taylor wrote a letter of apology to her and she now forgives what he did, but she said she’ll never forget.

There are 46 inmates currently on Missouri’s death row.

Dave Dormire, director of the Division of Adult Institutions for the Missouri Department of Corrections, announced a new one-drug protocol (propofol) for lethal injection. This one-drug protocol replaces the three-drug protocol previously used by the state.

This change was necessary, according to Dormire. Sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs previously used in executions, is no longer available.

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17 mai, source : http://missourideathrow.com/

Attorney General Chris Koster submitted for filing similar versions of the attached motion in the Missouri Supreme Court today regarding the following capital murder cases:

State v. David Barnett
State v. Cecil Clayton
State v. Andre Cole
State v. Paul Goodwin
State v. Herbert Smulls
State v. Walter Storey
State v. Leon Taylor
State v. Michael Worthington
State v. David Zink

lethal injection protocol : pdf file