ST. LOUIS • A St. Louis-area man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 17-year-old girl in 1989 was executed early today.
Jeffrey Ferguson, 59, was put to death by injection just after midnight at the state prison in Bonne Terre. He was pronounced dead at 12:11 a.m.
Among the witnesses was St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan.
McClellan said he saw no sign of discomfort between the time the drug was administered and the time Ferguson was declared dead. He said Ferguson was turned toward and talking to family and friends of his who were there as witnesses during his final minutes.
Jim Hall, father of victim Kelli Hall, expressed relief at Ferguson's death.
"It's been a very long 25 years waiting for this execution," he said at a press conference afterward.
Hall said the execution came "301 months to the day since we buried Kelli."
As the lethal drug was administered, Ferguson took a few deep breaths before becoming still, and his daughters cried as he closed his eyes.
"I'm sorry to have to be the cause that brings you all into this dark business of execution," Ferguson said in his final statement. "I pray for the victim's family to have peace in their hearts one day and lose the anger, hate and need for revenge that has driven them."
Jim Hall, who also witnessed the execution along with his son and ex-wife, fought back tears as he described how Ferguson strangled his daughter as he raped her 25 years ago. Hall said it took "way too many years" to put Ferguson to death.
"This basically tore two families apart," he said after Ferguson's execution. "Hopefully, now we can move forward. ... Kelli can rest now."
Appeals on Ferguson’s behalf were denied late Tuesday night by the U.S. Supreme Court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had denied a clemency request earlier in the day.
Ferguson’s attorneys challenged, among other things, the state’s refusal to disclose where it gets its execution drugs.
Kelli Hall was abducted about 11 p.m. Feb. 9, 1989, from a St. Charles service station where she worked.
Her nude body was found 13 days later off River Valley Drive in Maryland Heights.
A co-defendant, Kenneth Ousley, 48, of Ellisville, pleaded guilty in 1993 to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Ferguson was tried twice in three years for her killing.
A jury in 1992 sentenced him to death, but the state Supreme Court reversed the decision because of a faulty jury instruction.
Ferguson was tried again in October 1995. The second jury also recommended the death penalty.
Silent at the first trial, Ferguson testified at the second. He claimed he had been drinking and had fallen asleep in the back seat of his Chevrolet Blazer. He denied killing Hall.
A witness placed Ferguson within 100 yards of the site of the abduction near the time Hall disappeared.
An FBI scientist said DNA of a blood sample from Ferguson matched semen recovered from the victim’s coat.
Other witnesses said Ferguson had tried to dispose of rings that had belonged to the victim.
In later years, Ferguson had expressed remorse for the crime. Supporters said he'd found religion, counseled other inmates and helped start a prison hospice program.
But St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said Ferguson's good deeds in prison didn't make up for the senseless killing of an innocent teenager. He noted that it took several minutes for Hall to die.
"She gets abducted, abused in an unspeakable manner by this guy and then slowly murdered and dumped in a field like a bag of garbage," McCulloch said.
A statement issued by Gov. Nixon on Tuesday night said: "Kelli Hall was only 17 when she was abducted from her workplace, raped and brutally murdered. Her life, so full of promise, was brutally taken from her and her family."
"The jury that convicted Jeffrey Ferguson of Kelli's murder found that the aggravating circumstances for this crime warranted the death penalty," he said in denying the clemency request. "My decision today upholds that appropriate sentence. "
Missouri switched to a one-drug execution method last year. Ferguson’s execution was Missouri’s fifth straight execution using the single drug, pentobarbital.
Ferguson’s father was a photographer at the Post-Dispatch. Renyold Ferguson retired in 1995.