ST. LOUIS • Eighteen convicted killers have been executed in Missouri in the last two years, a pace that is expected to slow significantly with death sentences on the decline and many of the 28 remaining death row inmates still filing appeals.
Only Texas, with 24, has performed more executions than Missouri since November 2013. But execution appears to be imminent for just one Missouri inmate.
“They’ve basically run out of people to kill, to put it in an undiplomatic way,” said Kent Gipson, a Kansas City-based attorney who represents several inmates.
Executions across the U.S. were largely on hold for many years due to a de facto moratorium as the Supreme Court grappled with the constitutionality of lethal injection. Once that cleared, execution drugs became hard to obtain because major companies refused to sell drugs for lethal use.
Missouri eventually turned to pentobarbital, obtained from a source the state won’t disclose, in late 2013. By then, there was a backlog of inmates whose appeals were exhausted. Attorney General Chris Koster asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for many of them, and the court obliged, scheduling one a month since November 2013 (some were halted by court action or clemency).
At the same time, death sentences have been on the decline for many years. Nationally, the 72 death sentences issued last year were the fewest since 1976, according to Amnesty International. None were issued in Missouri.
Death penalty expert Deborah Denno, who teaches at Fordham Law School, cited several factors, including concern over the availability of lethal drugs and worries about executing the innocent.
“I think juries aren’t sending people to death as much and I think prosecutors aren’t bringing them up as often,” Denno said.
Execution could be near for Earl Forrest, convicted of killing a Dent County sheriff’s deputy and two others during a 2002 crime rampage. Forrest is out of appeals and Koster has requested an execution date.
But 16 of the remaining 26 Missouri inmates have yet to exhaust their appeals. Another two have claimed innocence and their cases are being reviewed, while two others still technically on death row have been ruled mentally incompetent for execution.
Medical conditions have cast doubt in two cases this year alone. Ernest Lee Johnson was scheduled to die last week for killing three convenience store workers in 1994, but the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to an appeals court for review because his attorneys argued that the execution drug could cause violent seizures due to a benign brain tumor.
And in May, Russell Bucklew, convicted of killing a southeast Missouri man during a 1996 crime rampage, was granted a stay over concerns that the execution drug could cause suffering due to a congenital condition that includes weakened and malformed blood vessels and nose and throat tumors.
Courts have ordered new sentencing hearings for three inmates over attorney and procedural errors, and the U.S. Supreme Court remanded one case to the district court over attorney competence concerns because a federal appeal was not filed on time.
William Boliek is likely to live out his life on death row. His execution was stayed by Gov. Mel Carnahan. Carnahan died in a plane crash without acting on it and a ruling determined that only Carnahan could overturn the stay. A spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon has said William Boliek will not be executed.
Below is a list of the remaining death row inmates and details about their cases:
EXHAUSTED APPEALS AND COULD BE EXECUTED SOON
• Earl Forrest, convicted of killing a Dent County sheriff's deputy and two others in 2002.
GRANTED A STAY OF EXECUTION
• William Boliek, convicted of killing an 18-year-old girl in Kansas City in 1983. Then-Gov. Mel Carnahan issued a stay in 1997, which wasn't resolved before he died in a 2000 plane crash. A court said only Carnahan could overturn it. A spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon has said Boliek will serve out his life in prison.
UNFIT FOR EXECUTION, BUT STILL ON DEATH ROW
• Charles Mathenia, convicted of killing two elderly sisters in 1984, declared mentally disabled in 1994.
• Roosevelt Pollard, convicted of killing an Arkansas businessman at a southeast Missouri rest stop in 1983, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, ruled incompetent in 1999.
GRANTED STAYS AMID INNOCENCE CLAIMS
• Reginald Clemons, convicted in the 1991 deaths of two sisters thrown from an abandoned Mississippi River bridge in St. Louis. His execution was stayed in 2009 and the Missouri Supreme Court appointed a special judge to investigate.
• Marcellus Williams, convicted of killing Lisha Gayle in 1998 at her University City home. His attorneys are seeking new DNA testing.
GRANTED STAYS OVER MEDICAL CONCERNS
• Russell Bucklew, convicted of killing a southeast Missouri man during a 1996 crime spree. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed his execution in May over concerns that the execution drug could cause suffering, because Bucklew has a rare congenital condition that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, along with nose and throat tumors.
• Ernest Lee Johnson, convicted of killing three Columbia convenience store workers in 1994. The U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case to a federal appeals court last week. Johnson had part of a benign brain tumor removed in 2008, along with brain tissue, and his attorneys claim the execution drug could cause violent seizures.
SENTENCES SET ASIDE
• David Barnett, convicted of killing his grandparents in suburban St. Louis in 1996. A federal judge ruled Barnett's trial attorneys didn't present enough evidence about abuse Barnett endured as a child. An appeal is pending.
• Mark Gill, convicted of killing a rural Cape Girardeau County man in 2002. The Missouri Supreme Court tossed the death sentence because his lawyer had failed to question the character of the victim, who had child pornography on his computer. A retrial is pending.
• Gregory Bowman, convicted of abducting and strangling a St. Louis County teenager in 1977. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that jurors improperly heard information about two Illinois murders that Bowman was suspected of committing. A retrial is pending.
REMANDED TO LOWER COURT
• Mark Christeson, convicted of killing a woman and her two children 17 years ago. The U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court over attorney competence concerns because a federal appeal was not filed on time.
APPEALS NOT EXHAUSTED
• Terrance Anderson, convicted in Butler County for the 2001 shootings of the grandparents of his child.
• Walter Barton, convicted of killing an 81-year-old mobile home park operator in Ozark in 1991.
• Robbie Blurton, a Kansas man convicted of killing his aunt, uncle and the couple's 15-year-old granddaughter in Cole Camp in 2009.
• Christopher Collings, convicted of raping and killing a 9-year-old girl in McDonald County in 2007.
• Richard Davis, convicted of the videotaped sexual torture and killing of an Independence woman in 2006.
• Carmen Deck, convicted of fatally shooting a couple during a robbery of their home near De Soto in 1996.
• Brian Dorsey, convicted of killing his cousin and her husband as they slept near New Bloomfield in 2006.
• Jesse Driskill, convicted of killing two people in southwest Missouri in 2010.
• David Hosier, convicted of fatally shooting a woman at her Jefferson City apartment in 2009.
• Johnny Johnson, convicted of kidnapping and killing a 6-year-old girl from near St. Louis in 2002.
• Kevin Johnson, convicted of fatally shooting a Kirkwood police officer in 2005.
• Vincent McFadden, convicted of fatally shooting his girlfriend's sister in the St. Louis area in 2003 and a fatal street shooting in Pine Lawn in 2002.
• Scott McLaughlin, convicted of raping and fatally stabbing his former girlfriend in St. Louis County in 2003.
• Lance Shockley, convicted for ambushing and killing a State Highway Patrol officer in 2005.
• Leonard Taylor, convicted of killing his girlfriend and her three children in 2004 in St. Louis.
• Michael Tisius, convicted of the 2000 shooting deaths of two Randolph County jailers during a botched attempt to free another inmate.
— The Associated Press