FBI Scientists Gave Flawed Testimony About Hair Evidence in Missouri Death Penalty Case

Categories: Death Penalty

Ken Piorkowski

On Saturday, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice made a stunning admission: A team of their scientists had used flawed science for years, then testified against defendants in hundreds of criminal trials using their erroneous conclusions. The FBI found that 26 of its 28 examiners in the "microscopic hair analysis unit" gave overstated testimony in 268 trial cases, and that 96 percent of the time that testimony favored the prosecution. The cases took place between 1972 and 1999.

The defendants in 32 of the cases received a death sentence. Of those, 12 have already been executed. One of those took place in Missouri.

The FBI is still completing its review, but Tricia Bushnell, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, says the bad science the FBI used for decades has likely trickled down into Missouri's local forensic labs.

"State analysts are doing what the FBI taught them to do, and so we'll have to review those cases as well," she says. "Our regional crime labs went to these trainings taught by the FBI."

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Triggerman in Murder-for-Hire Case Says Death Row Inmate Kimber Edwards Is Innocent

Categories: Death Penalty

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MIssouri Department of Corrections
Orthell Wilson told police he was paid to kill Kimberly Cantrell.

When the Missouri Supreme Court cancelled the May 12 execution date for Kimber Edwards, the reason seemed pretty mundane -- Edwards' two attorneys would be tied up around then and unable to properly represent him.

However, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch just published a stunning interview with Edwards' supposed accomplice, Orthell Wilson. In it, Wilson recants his implication of Edwards in the 2000 murder of Kimberly Cantrell, Edwards' ex-wife.

"Did he pay you to kill his wife?" asked reporter Jeremy Kohler in a telephone conversation recorded from the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

"No, he did not," Wilson answered.

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Missouri Supreme Court Stays Execution of Kimber Edwards

Categories: Death Penalty

MIssouri Department of Corrections
Kimber Edwards

Late yesterday, the Missouri Supreme Court vacated a warrant of execution for Kimber Edwards, a man convicted of murdering his ex-wife through a hit man. Edwards had been scheduled to die on May 12.

In August 2000, Kimberly Cantrell was shot twice in the head in her University City apartment. Witnesses said they'd seen another man, Orthell Wilson, knocking on her door just before the shooting. But Wilson told police that Cantrell's ex-husband, Edwards, paid him $3,500 and provided him with a key to her apartment. Wilson also led authorities to the place where he'd stashed the murder weapon.

Prosecutors said Edwards did not want his ex-wife to prevail in a child-support battle. Edwards claimed he was framed and his confession coerced.

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Court Awards Larry Flynt the Right to Pursue Sealed State Execution Documents

Categories: Death Penalty

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Missouri Department of Corrections
Missouri executed Joseph Franklin on November 20, 2013.

Yesterday, a federal appeals court issued the latest ruling in a legal battle involving a group of Missouri's death row inmates and Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt. The decision reverses a lower court's order barring Flynt from joining in two suits filed by the condemned men -- one argues that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, while the other challenges Missouri's execution protocol, arguing that its method of procuring the lethal injection chemicals is a violation of the state's drug laws.

Flynt wants to be named a plaintiff in the legal proceedings so he can fight for access to sealed records that could shed light on Missouri's secretive execution process.

"This was an ongoing case. We're just sticking our nose it in, frankly, to find out why those records are sealed," says Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri and the attorney representing Flynt in this matter.

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Cecil Clayton, Brain-Injured Man Who Killed Deputy, Executed [UPDATE]

Categories: Death Penalty

Courtesy Elizabeth Unger Carlyle

Update: Cecil Clayton died last night at 9:21 p.m. from a lethal injection. Continue reading for a statement from his attorney and Governor Jay Nixon.

Unless his attorneys are able to work some last-minute magic, 74-year-old Cecil Clayton will die tonight at 6 p.m. by lethal injection. This is despite the fact that he is missing about 8 percent of his total brain mass and 20 percent of one frontal lobe (as pictured above), and suffers from dementia. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled on Saturday that Clayton is mentally fit enough to be executed.

The accident that caused the brain injury occurred 24 years before Clayton shot and killed a sheriff's deputy named Christopher Lee Castetter, who was only 29 years old. Clayton shot him at point-blank range while he was seated in his patrol vehicle, his gun still in its holster.

Elizabeth Unger Carlyle, one of Clayton's attorneys, says that while Castetter's death was a "tragedy," Clayton is currently too mentally impaired for execution.

"The problem is that in this country we say that we only execute the worst of the worst. You can see there's a big hole in his right frontal lobe -- that's what controls impulse control and reasoning," she says. "He's just not tracking what really happening, what's going on, he's not able to respond well to it, or even be able to understand what's happening to him in any rational way. And that's just not the person that we ought to be executing."

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Death Row Inmate Who Compared Governor Nixon to Hitler Executed, First Since Arizona

Categories: Death Penalty

Michael Worthington
While Missouri candidates and their supporters cheered (or lamented) the results of yesterday's primary elections, the state of Missouri busied itself with ending the life of death row inmate, convicted rapist and murderer Michael Worthington.

He was pronounced dead at 12:11 a.m. this morning, ten minutes after receiving a single dose of the sedative penobarbital. As the drug entered Worthington's system, he appeared to breath heavily for fifteen seconds before closing his eyes for the last time, according the Associated Press.

The fact that Worthington died fairly quickly is significant -- his is the first execution since Arizona's two-drug cocktail took nearly two-hours to kill Joseph Wood, who died gasping "like a fish on shore gulping for air."

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UPDATE: John Middleton Executed, Becomes Sixth Man Put to Death in Missouri in 2014

Categories: Death Penalty

John Middleton
Update: For the sixth time this year, Governor Jay Nixon has declined to grant clemency to a death-row inmate. John Middleton, a former meth dealer convicted of three grisly murders in 1995, was injected with a dose of pentobarbital at 6:58 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 7:06 p.m.

Middleton had spent nearly two decades in prison since his conviction in 1997. He was 54 years old.

Last night, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Perry halted Middleton's execution less than two hours before the 12:01 a.m. deadline, arguing that his mental-health issues "[have] made a significant threshold showing he is incompetent to be executed," and that he should be granted a legal hearing to evaluate his sanity.

In an affidavit, a psychologist who examined Middleton stated he "lacks a rational understanding of the reason for the execution and is therefore not competent to be executed due to a diagnosis of delusional disorder, a psychotic mental illness."

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Judge Halts Murderer John Middleton's Execution Over Mental Health Concerns

John Middleton
Breaking update: A Federal District Court judge stayed John Middleton's execution this morning on the basis of his deteriorated mental condition.

In the decision, the judge writes that "This is not a conclusion that he is actually incompetent, it is only a conclusion that he is entitled to a hearing on the issue," though she notes evidence of Middleton being diagnosed with "a variety of mental health disorders" as well as his long history of drug abuse. She adds:

"The affidavits he provided from other inmates and from the counsel who have dealt with him indicate that his mental state has deteriorated over the 17 years he has been incarcerated. The inmates indicate that he frequently talks to people who are not there, and tells stories that could not have had any basis in reality."

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Missouri Gov. Nixon Wins Golden Padlock Award for Excellence in Government Secrecy

The Golden Padlock Award.
Update, June 30: Nixon won the Golden Padlock Award over the weekend! Hooray for secrecy! See below for more details. End of update.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is great at keeping secrets. Maybe too good. Last year, after the state was forced to find a new source for its execution drug pentobarbital, he declared the identity of the execution drug supplier a state secret, alarming journalists and citizens alike who say this is a violation of the state's Sunshine Law.

Which brings us to the Golden Padlock Award, a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek honor presented by the Investigative Reporters and Editors, a professional organization of journalists headquartered at Mizzou's School of Journalism.

Yesterday, IRE announced its finalists for the "award," which celebrates the most secretive government agency or individual in the United States. Nixon made the short list, co-nominated alongside Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin.

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Missouri Executes John Winfield: Final Appeals Denied by Supreme Court

Categories: Death Penalty

John Winfield
Update 12:20 a.m.:A rapid-fire sequence of appeals left John Winfield with no legal recourse to save himself from execution Tuesday night. Winfield was pronounced dead at 12:10 a.m. Wednesday, nine minutes after receiving a lethal dose of pentobarbital.

After the U.S. Supreme Court denied his lawyers' request for a stay of execution around 11:30 p.m., the only thing that could have stopped Winfield's death was his clemency petition on the desk of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

Nixon denied the request for clemency minutes after the Supreme Court decision.

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