Missouri was one of nine states to use lethal gas as a method of execution. In 1968 a moratorium on capital punishment was invoked as a result of Furman vs. Georgia. On June 29, 1972, on a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty, as administered in Georgia, to be arbitrary and capricious and thus, cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. This effectively suspended the death penalty nationwide from that date until states could revise their laws.
Because of the ruling of the Supreme Court, all inmates sentenced to capital punishment at that time had their sentences reduced to Life in prison. On July 2, 1976 the United States Supreme Court ruled the revised capital punishment laws of Florida, Georgia and Texas to be constitutional. Capital punishment as a form of punishment was therefore found not to be cruel and unusual.
Missouri’s Capital Murder Law became effective on May 26, 1977, when Governor Joseph P. Teasdale signed into immediate effect a new death penalty bill which was designed after laws of other states that had been upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. The new Missouri Capital Murder Law prohibits the application of the Death Penalty unless one of 14 specifically listed aggravating circumstances are found to be part of the offense:
- Prior capital murder convictions, or a history of serious assault convictions;
- A second capital murder which is committed at the same time;
- Using a device in a public place that endangered persons other than the victim;
- That the murder was committed for pay;
- That the victim was a judicial officer or prosecutor, or had been one, and that the murder occurred during or because of the victim’s exercise of his duties;
- That the defendant hired another person to commit the murder;
- That the crime “was outrageously or wantonly vile,” involving “torture, or depravity of mind”;
- That the victim was a working police officer, corrections officer or fireman;
- That the murder was committed while the a~:cused was in custody, or having escaped custody;
- That the murder was committed to avoid, interfere with, or prevent the lawful arrest or custody of himself or another;
- That the murder was committed during the commission or attempted commission of certain felonies;
- That the murder victim was a witness or potential witness in any past or pending investigation or prosecution;
- That the mu rder victim was a correctional employee or an inmate of a correctional institution;
- That the murder victim was killed as a result of high jacking an airplane, train, ship, bus or other public conveyance (RSMo 656.032).
The 84th General Assembly of the Missouri legislature approved a change in the statute allowing capital punishment to be administered either by means of lethal gas or lethal injection at the discretion of the Director of the Department of Corrections. Since then lethal injection has been selected as the method of carrying out the death penalty sentence in Missouri. The bill was signed into law by Governor John Ashcroft on June 2, 1988 and became effective August 13, 1988. Current state law also allows executions to be carried out at any state correctional institution under the direction of that institution’s superintendent.
In Missouri, lethal injection occurs when a series of drugs is administered. The first step is to inject an intravenous solution of normal saline into the arm to allow the veins to expand. Sodium Pentathol is then injected through the IV to render the subject unconscious. The second drug injected is Pancronium Bromide (Pavulon) which stops the respiratory system. Lastly, Potassium Chloride is injected which leads to the cessation of heart function.
The first capital punishment inmate executed in Missouri under the new Capital Murder Law and the new Lethal Injection Statute, was George “Tiny” Mercer on January 6, 1989 at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.
- The last execution in Dunklin County, Missouri: Fred Adams, 1937
- The first convicted felons to be executed under the new law were 33 year old William Wright and 34 year old John Brown. Wright and Brown were executed together on March 4, 1938. On March 15, 1933, William Wright was convicted of first degree murder in the shooting death of Dr. J.T. McCampbell, a druggist in Kansas City. On April 7, 1936, John Brown was convicted of the shooting death of William Cavanaugh, an off duty policeman, during an attempted armed robbery of a Kansas City tavern. This was the first of four double executions in the state’s gas chamber.
- The last double execution in the state occurred on December 18, 1953 when Bonnie Brown Heady and Carl Austin Hall were put to death for the federal offenses of kidnapping and murder of six year old Bobby Greenlease. These inmates were executed on an agreement between the state of Missouri and the Federal Government because the federal prison system had no means of imposing capital punishment. Mrs. Heady is the only woman executed by means of lethal gas.
- From 1938 to 1965, 39 adjudged felons were executed in the state of Missouri. This included three executions for violations of federal kidnapping laws, 30 executions for convictions for first degree murder, and six convictions for rape. Missouri Department of Corrections records indicate that of the 39 executed, 23 were black and 16 were white. Only one of the 39 was a woman.
- The last execution in Missouri by means of lethal gas was that of Lloyd Leo Anderson on 26 January 1965 for the murder of a 15 year old delivery boy during a robbery in a St. Louis drugstore.
- Postcards of Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City.
Source: Missouri Department of Corrections