Missouri Governor Denies Clemency for Brian Dorsey

Prison guards, jurors, and a judge had called for inmate's life to be spared
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2024 1:50 PM CDT
Updated Apr 8, 2024 4:20 PM CDT
Death Row Inmate's Clemency Request Is Highly Unusual
This undated booking photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows Brian Dorsey.   (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP, File)
UPDATE Apr 8, 2024 4:20 PM CDT

Despite the chorus of calls to grant clemency to Brian Dorsey, Missouri's Republican Gov. Mike Parson decided not to prevent the execution scheduled for Tuesday. "Governor Parson has chosen to ignore the wealth of information before him showing that Brian Dorsey is uniquely deserving of mercy," Dorsey's lawyer said in a statement Monday, the AP reports. Parson's office issued no comment about the decision.

Apr 4, 2024 1:50 PM CDT

Everyone on death row pleads for clemency. But Missouri death row inmate Brian Dorsey's petition is unusual in that it's backed by more than 70 current and former prison workers, five jurors, three Republican state representatives, law professors, "even the appeals judge who upheld Dorsey's conviction and death sentence in 2009," the Guardian reports. "I've never seen any other case with this kind of support from current and former corrections staff," Robin Maher of the Death Penalty Information Center tells the New York Times. It's "really remarkable." Convicted in the 2006 slayings of his cousin Sarah Bonnie and her husband, Ben, Dorsey doesn't claim innocence. But the 52-year-old appealing to the US Supreme Court says nearly two decades in prison, where he worked as a barber giving haircuts to prison workers, has left him changed.

That hasn't swayed all members of the victims' family. "Brian will get the justice that Sarah and Ben have deserved for so long," relatives wrote in January, urging Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to proceed with the execution scheduled for Tuesday at Potosi correctional center, per the Times. Other family members support the clemency request. They're among more than 150 people who've urged Parson to commute Dorsey's death sentence to life in prison. Writing in the Missouri Times, former state Supreme Court judge Michael Wolff says he was unaware Dorsey's court-appointed lawyers were compromised, having received a flat fee to take the case. Flat fees are no longer offered in death penalty cases given concerns that attorneys seek quick resolution without exploring plea deals or mitigating factors.

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Dorsey, who pleaded guilty without reaching a plea deal, said he received bad advice from lawyers. Those now representing him claim he killed during a drug-induced psychosis. His was "the rare case where we got it wrong," and his execution would "dishonor our system of justice," Wolff writes. Writing in the Kansas City Star, former Potosi correction officer Timothy Lancaster adds the execution of "an excellent barber and a kind and respectful man" would be "a pointless cruelty." Dozens of corrections officers wrote to Parson, saying the death penalty is not appropriate for a model prisoner like Dorsey. A rep for Parson said Monday he would review Dorsey's request and likely announce a decision at least 24 hours before the execution date. He hasn't blocked an execution since taking office in 2018. (More death row stories.)

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