Death Penalty

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it will take up same-sex marriage this term has many people searching for clues to how the court’s justices may rule.

The high court will decide whether same-sex couples have a right to marry under the constitution. Specifically, the court will hear cases that ask it to overturn bans in four states. The cases will be argued in April; a decision is expected in June.

Marcellus Williams is set to die on January 28.
(Missouri Department of Corrections)

Updated 5:00 pm Wednesday, January 14

In a six-page opinion issued on Wednesday, judge Rodney Sippel dismissed Williams' petition, calling the complaint "frivolous."

Williams, Sippel wrote, had plenty of opportunity at both the state and federal levels to challenge the absence of DNA testing. His failure to do so is the reason that he can't ask for the DNA to be tested now.

Read Sippel's order here.

Missouri Sets Execution Record With 10 In One Year

Dec 9, 2014

Early Wednesday morning, Missouri set a record for its number of executions in a year.

Paul Goodwin was the 10th man executed, more than any other year since the death penalty was reinstated in the state.

Goodwin was put to death for sexually assaulting Joan Crotts, a 63-year-old widow, and then killing her with a hammer in 1998 in St. Louis County.

In denying clemency, Gov. Jay Nixon referred to the crime as "brutal" and "senseless."

Missouri Executes Leon Taylor, 9th Inmate This Year

Nov 19, 2014

Early Wednesday morning, Missouri executed its 9th man this year.

In 1994, Leon Taylor killed 53-year-old Robert Newton, a clerk, as part of a gas station robbery.  Taylor then pointed the gun at Newton's 8-year-old daughter, who had just seen her stepfather killed, but the gun didn't fire.

In denying clemency, Nixon wrote:

Execution Postponed After Supreme Court Intervention

Oct 28, 2014

Just hours before it was scheduled to begin, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Missouri inmate Mark Christeson's execution. He was set to be put to death for killing a southern Missouri woman and her two children in 1998.

The Supreme Court granted a temporary stay over concerns that Christeson's case had no federal review. Justices will consider whether there should be oral arguments in the case.

If the high court were to remove its stay, the Missouri Supreme Court would have to set a new execution date. December would be the earliest date that it could be set.

James Cridland via Flickr

Legal questions surrounding Michael Brown’s death and events in Ferguson again dominated the conversation among our legal roundtable.

Justice Department Investigations

The Justice Department has three roles in Ferguson, said William Freivogel, director of the school of journalism at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. First: A criminal investigation, independent of the state’s investigation.

When Missouri Has Injected Midazolam

Sep 10, 2014
via Wikimedia Commons

Missouri prison officials said under oath that they would not use midazolam in executions. But a St. Louis Public Radio investigation revealed last week that the state has used it in nine executions since 2013.

No state has carried out more executions than Missouri this year. Early this morning, Missouri carried out its eighth execution of 2014.

Earl Ringo was put to death for killing two people during a robbery that went bad in Columbia.

"Ringo was convicted of the murders of Dennis Poyser and Joanna Baysinger during the robbery of a restaurant in Columbia," Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement denying clemency. "Both were shot to death brutally, without mercy. The evidence that was presented at trial left no doubt about Ringo’s guilt."

(via Flickr/Stephen M. Scott)

(Updated at 2:50 p.m., Tues., Sept. 9.) 

Even as the state prepares for another execution at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, two separate cases charge that the state's lethal injection method amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

On Tuesday morning, a federal appeals court heard arguments in two lawsuits brought by inmates on death row against the Department of Corrections, alleging the state's execution methods violate the Eighth Amendment, the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

via Wikimedia Commons

(Updated at 10:01 a.m., Sat., Sept. 6 with the attorney general's response)

Lawyers representing inmate Earl Ringo are asking a federal judge to halt his upcoming execution, citing new information uncovered in a St. Louis Public Radio investigation.

(via Wikimedia Commons/California Department of Corrections)

(Updated at 10:51 am, Thurs., Sept. 4 with further response from the Department of Corrections)

Behaving With Secrecy, Another State Botches Execution

Jul 24, 2014
(via Wikimedia Commons/Noahudlis)

For the fourth time this year, an inmate's lethal injection did not go as planned. Last night, it was Arizona, but the state has company.

An Ohio inmate took 25 minutes to die in January. In Oklahoma, there were two apparent botches: In one,  an inmate said, "I feel my whole body burning," and in another, the prisoner took more than 40 minutes to die.

But Arizona's execution took even longer. Joseph Wood's execution began at 1:52 p.m., and he died nearly two hours later at 3:49 p.m.

Missouri Department of Corrections

Late Wednesday, Missouri executed John Middleton, 54, after courts debated whether he was mentally competent as well as claims that he was actually innocent.

According to the Department of Corrections, the execution began at 6:58 p.m. and ended at 7:06 p.m.

(Courtesy of Investigative Reporters And Editors)

Missouri is one of several states that are buying their execution drugs in secret. This week, the issue is getting some national attention.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has been recognized as one of the “most secretive publicly funded agencies or people in the United States.” He’s “won” the Golden Padlock Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. (He was also invited to accept the award in person, but declined).

Missouri carried out another execution early Wednesday. It was the state's fifth this year, and the nation's second since Oklahoma botched an execution in April.

Inmate John Winfield was put to death for murdering two people —  Arthea Sanders and Shawnee Murphy — in St. Louis County in 1996.

According to a state official, Winfield was pronounced dead at 12:10 a.m.

The execution took place in spite of concerns over the state's secret drug supplier, as well as the state's likely  intimidation of a correctional officer that supported clemency for the inmate.

A federal judge has stayed Missouri's upcoming execution over concerns that the Department of Corrections obstructed the clemency process.

Inmate John Winfield was scheduled to be put to death on June 18 for killing two people in St. Louis County. Before an execution can occur in Missouri, the governor must first make a decision on clemency -- whether or not the inmate's life should be spared.

Monday's "St. Louis on the Air" will cover the pressing legal issues of the day.
s_falkow | Flickr

On Friday, a Cole County judge denied a death row inmate's request to order the state to turn over records on the lethal drugs that will be injected into him.

Inmate John Winfield attempted to speed up the legal process with a preliminary injunction because his execution is scheduled for June 18.

His lawyer, Joe Luby, argued that the Missouri Department of Corrections is violating the sunshine law by keeping secret the identity of the supplier of the execution drug.

Judge Hears Arguments Over Missouri Execution Secrecy

Jun 4, 2014
(via Wikimedia Commons/Noahudlis)

In a court hearing Wednesday, the Missouri attorney general's office defended the secrecy that just last week Attorney General Chris Koster expressed concerns over.

Inmate John Winfield is scheduled to be executed on June 18 for murdering two people in St. Louis County in 1996. His lawyer, Joe Luby, argued in the Cole County 19th Judicial Circuit Court that the Missouri Department of Corrections is violating the sunshine law by keeping secret the identity of the supplier of the execution drug.

(Joseph Leahy/St. Louis Public Radio)

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says that his speech last Thursday to fellow lawyers, where he laid out the challenges facing Missouri and other states with the death penalty, had everything to do with policy, not politics.

“The purpose of the speech was to continue a serious public policy discussion regarding one aspect of perhaps the most profound act conducted by state government,”  Koster wrote in a statement Friday to St. Louis Public Radio.

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

In a speech Thursday, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster expressed concern over the execution secrecy that his office has previously fought hard to defend. The Democrat is calling on the state to create a state-run laboratory to produce the lethal injection drugs itself.

Koster says the expanding secrecy surrounding Missouri’s lethal injection methods should "concern all of us deeply.”

The announcement comes at a time when there are few willing suppliers, which Koster admitted in his speech.

James Cridland via Flickr

Wednesday marked the fourth day of the Lyft hearing in downtown St. Louis. The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission (MTC) sees the ride-sharing app as a taxi service, and wants Lyft to comply with existing regulations. But Lyft says it is a “friend with a car,” not a taxi. Who has the stronger legal argument?

U.S. Supreme Court Orders Missouri Halt Execution

May 20, 2014
California Department of Corrections

Updated 5/21/14 6:35 pm

Missouri had hoped to carry out the nation's first execution since Oklahoma botched one, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the state to halt its plans.

The U.S. Supreme Court was asked to step in after the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals removed a stay that it originally put in place.

Russell Bucklew had been scheduled to be executed at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday. It would have been the state's seventh execution in as many months — equaling the number of executions the state has carried out in the preceding nine years.

Uncredited AP

Oklahoma, a state with numerous ties to the controversy over Missouri's lethal injection procedures, on Tuesday night botched what the state had hoped would be the first of two successful executions.

According to reports of witnesses, Clayton Lockett writhed in pain on the gurney after he awoke following a doctor's declaration that he was unconscious. He died of an apparent heart attack at 7:06 p.m., more than 40 minutes after the first drug was injected at 6:23 p.m.

Robert Patton, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said Lockett's vein had collapsed.

Missouri Executes Sixth Inmate In Six Months

Apr 22, 2014
California Department of Corrections

William Rousan, 57, was put to death this morning for killing a couple, Grace and Charles Lewis, at a southeast Missouri farm in 1993.

It was the state's sixth execution in six months -- a dramatic uptick from years past. According to our examination, Missouri will set a record next month when it carries out seven straight months of executions.

Video: The Death Penalty In Missouri From All Sides

Mar 28, 2014

The use of the death penalty is on the rise in Missouri. I looked at the numbers recently, and the state has carried out more executions in the past five months than it has in the preceding eight years.

The Nine Network's Stay Tuned devoted a full hour to the topic: the death penalty's implementation, struggles, and of course, the secrecy surrounding its use.

The show delved into the issue from all sides:

(via Wikimedia Commons/California Department of Corrections)

With the recent run of executions in Missouri, it seemed apropos to review some of the arguments for and against the controversial subject of capital punishment. In two separate interviews, St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh did just that.

Missouri Executes Inmate, Third This Year

Mar 26, 2014

At 12:01 Wednesday morning, Missouri executed inmate Jeffrey Ferguson, marking the state's fifth execution in as many months.

Ferguson was put to death for the brutal murder and rape of a 17-year-old St. Charles County girl. The crime occurred in 1989, and the victim’s father, Jim Hall, said the punishment was long overdue.

“It’s been 25 years of pins and needles," Hall said. "Every time the appeal went up, you waited to find out what happened. That’s exactly where we’ve been. But last month, he had an [execution] date and felt some of the fear that my daughter felt.”

(via Wikimedia Commons/California Department of Corrections)

On Wednesday, Missouri is scheduled to carry out another execution. Although it will be the state's fifth execution in as many months, there are still numerous unknowns. Here's what we know and don't know about the upcoming execution.

Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Sunday was the start of "Sunshine Week," a time to celebrate the idea of open government and open records. But in Missouri, you might want to hold off on popping the champagne.

Missouri's sunshine law, which allows the public to ask government officials for things like emails, documents and other records, doesn't have much teeth.

How Missouri Got Ahold Of Its Backup Execution Drug

Mar 5, 2014
via Wikimedia Commons

When Missouri's execution drug supplier backed out after facing a lawsuit, the state found another pharmacy willing to sell it pentobarbital. But if that proved impossible, Missouri also had another option: It could use its controversial backup drug, midazolam.