Missouri executes Richard Strong for double murder
Updated 6/10/2015, 12:58 a.m. -- Richard Strong has been executed, less than an hour after Gov. Jay Nixon denied a clemency request and the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay.
Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Mike O'Connell says that Strong's execution via lethal injection began at 6:49 p.m. and that he was pronounced dead at 6:58 p.m. The execution took place at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre.
Pentobarbital was again used by the Department of Corrections to carry out the execution, the fourth one in Missouri this year. Strong also requested a sedative beforehand, and was given midazolam. That particular sedative was administered before three botched executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma.
O'Connell says, though, that there were no complications during tonight's execution.
Strong's last meal consisted of fried chicken, a cheeseburger and doughnuts. His final statement:
“Jehovah-jireh, you’re my provider. Your grace is sufficient for me. Forgive me for my sin. Abba-Abba, take my soul in your hands.”
After the execution, Corrections Director George Lombardi read the following statement from Gov. Nixon:
“Tonight, I ask the people of Missouri to remember Eva Washington and her two-year-old daughter, Zandrea Thomas, both of whom were brutally murdered in their own home 15 years ago by Richard Strong, whose sentence was carried out tonight. There have been many lives deeply affected by these crimes, and our thoughts and prayers go out on their behalf this evening.”
Nixon also released a similar statement beforehand, announcing his decision to deny clemency:
“After a final briefing from my counsel and a comprehensive review by my office, I have denied the petition for clemency from convicted murderer Richard Strong. Each request is considered and decided on its own merit and set of facts, and this is a process and a power of the Governor I do not take lightly. The murders of Eva Washington and her two-year-old daughter, Zandrea Thomas, were very brutal, with each of the victims being stabbed multiple times. The jury found that these murders warranted the death penalty, and my denial of clemency upholds the jury’s decision. I ask that the people of Missouri remember victims Eva Washington and Zandrea Thomas, and keep them and their families in their thoughts and prayers.”
Attorney General Chris Koster also issued a brief statement:
“Richard Strong viciously stabbed to death a young mother, Eva Washington, and her small child, Zandrea Thomas, nearly 15 years ago. While nothing can make up for the terrible events of that day, at least Richard Strong’s execution can give the victims’ family some measure of closure.”
Strong was put to death for the October 2000 killings. Zandrea's aunt, Petrina Thomas, also provided a statement after the execution:
“On behalf of the Thomas family, we would like to thank the state of Missouri for finally providing our family with closure of the horrific death of my niece and her mom. For 14 years, we have impatiently waited for this day to come. It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree; the wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone. The reality is we will grieve forever. We will not get over the loss of our loved ones, and we will learn to live with it. We will heal, and we will rebuild around the loss that we have suffered. We will never be the same again. He had a chance to watch his daughter grow up and laugh and smile with her. We never got a chance to see her first day of school, graduations, or watch her go on prom. My brother will never get a chance to walk his daughter down the aisle for her wedding day. Human life has dignity at any age. Nothing can justify the shedding of innocent blood or the taking of lives. You must take 100 percent responsibility for your choices and your actions, and pay with your own life. Revelation 21:4 reads: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. “We are at peace now and so glad that it is finally over. Thank you.”
Petrina Thomas witnessed Strong's execution, along with Virgil Sammant, Eva Washington's sister and Zandrea's aunt, and Willie Mae McCoy, Zandrea's grandmother.
Strong and Washington's 14-year-old daughter Alyshia had appealed to Gov. Nixon to grant her father clemency, even though he killed her mother and half-sister. Alyshia was three months old at the time, and was found by police in her crib next to a pool of blood. Attorney Jennifer Herndon had hoped that Alyshia's clemency request would make a difference.
“But in the end, probably the viciousness of the crime and the fact of the young child being killed and how brutal it was, it was just too much to overcome,” Herndon said.
Strong had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay, based in part on Zink v. Lombardi, a federal lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of lethal injections. Strong was one of 12 Missouri death row inmates named as plaintiffs in the suit.
Herndon also argued that Strong should have ben spared because he was severely mentally ill.
“One of the petitions we filed tried to get the United State Supreme Court to say that the 8th Amendment has evolved to the point of precluding the execution of the mentally ill, but we’re just not there yet,” Herndon said.
However, U.S. Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan indicated that they would have granted a stay of execution.
Pending any stays of execution or clemency, Richard Strong on Tuesday will become the fourth person in Missouri to be put to death this year and the 16th since the state resumed executions in late 2013.
Strong, 48, was convicted of two counts of murder in the October 2000 stabbing deaths of his girlfriend, 23-year-old Eva Washington, and her 2-year-old daughter, Zandrea Thomas, from another relationship. They were killed in an apartment in St. Ann where Washington lived at the time, along with Zandrea and Washington’s other daughter, Alyshia Strong, who is also Richard Strong’s daughter.
Alyshia was 3 months old at the time of the slayings. She was found unharmed and asleep in her crib, according to police reports. Now age 14, she has filed a clemency petition on behalf of her father. In an interview with the Associated Press, Alyshia says her father “sometimes struggles in life,” but that he also “plays an important role in counseling her.”
A spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon says he is reviewing the request.
Strong’s attorney, Jennifer Herndon of St. Louis, has also asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of execution, saying that her client is mentally ill.
“It’s really grounded in his childhood; he has quite a few different mental illnesses, actually, such as PTSD, major depression, and schizoid personality disorder," Herndon said. "He snapped ... he was definitely operating under a level of culpability that was less than you or I would who live in a normal mental state.”
Over the weekend, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected Strong's appeal to halt his execution, which is scheduled between 6 p.m. Tuesday and 5:59 p.m. Wednesday.
In his appeal, Strong claimed that being put to death would violate both the Missouri and U.S. constitutions "because his severe mental illness at the time of his crimes makes him unfit to be executed."
But the state's high court rejected the argument, stating that "he could have raised his claim at trial, on appeal, or during post-conviction relief proceedings."
Missouri is still using pentobarbital as its execution drug, but there are questions as to where and how the state is getting its supply. A recent article by Buzzfeed’s Chris McDaniel says that Missouri has been stockpiling doses of pentobarbital so that it has plenty on hand for future executions.
McDaniel, formerly of St. Louis Public Radio, is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed last year against the Missouri Department of Corrections for not disclosing information about pentobarbital and other drugs used in the state's execution protocol.
Nebraska is the most recent state to outlaw the death penalty. Thirty-one states have legal capital punishment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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