Home News Missouri Governor Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate Who Got Support From Guards

Missouri Governor Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate Who Got Support From Guards

Missouri Governor Denies Clemency for Death Row Inmate Who Got Support From Guards


Mike Parson, the governor of Missouri, said on Monday that he would not commute the death sentence of Brian Dorsey, who pleaded guilty to murdering Ben and Sarah Bonnie in 2006 and is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday unless the courts intervene.

“The pain Dorsey brought to others can never be rectified, but carrying out Dorsey’s sentence according to Missouri law and the court’s order will deliver justice and provide closure,” said Mr. Parson, a Republican who previously served as a sheriff.

Mr. Dorsey’s clemency request was unusual because more than 70 current and former prison workers who got to know Mr. Dorsey behind bars asked the governor to commute his sentence. They described Mr. Dorsey, 52, as a compliant and respectful inmate who had earned officers’ respect, eventually becoming a barber for employees at the prison.

“The very concept of ‘corrections’ implies that we want incarcerated people to change their ways,” Timothy Lancaster, a former officer at the prison where Mr. Dorsey was held, wrote in a recent column in The Kansas City Star. “Executing Dorsey would dishonor the hard work he has done to fulfill that objective.”

Mr. Dorsey is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday. He has asked state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to intervene before the scheduled execution.

“Brian’s unprecedented support, and his irrefutable evidence of redemption, are precisely the circumstances for which clemency is designed,” Megan Crane, a lawyer for Mr. Dorsey, said in a statement. “Allowing Brian to be executed despite this truth is devastating.”

Some members of Mr. Dorsey’s family, including some who were related to Ms. Bonnie as well, supported the clemency request. Other members of Ms. Bonnie’s family issued a statement in January saying they hoped the governor would allow the execution to proceed.

“All of these years of pain and suffering we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” those relatives said in the statement, which was reported by local news outlets. “Brian will get the justice that Sarah and Ben have deserved for so long.”

Missouri has carried out 97 executions since 1976, ranking behind only Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia and Florida. Mr. Parson has not blocked an execution since he took office in 2018, though he has granted pardons or commuted sentences for hundreds of people convicted of less serious crimes.

Missouri officials say that Mr. Dorsey was having trouble with drug dealers in December 2006 and had sought help from his cousin and her husband. The Bonnies invited Mr. Dorsey to spend the night at their home near New Bloomfield, Mo., in the central part of the state. After the couple went to bed that night, the authorities said, Mr. Dorsey took a shotgun and fatally shot each of them. Prosecutors also said that Mr. Dorsey sexually assaulted Ms. Bonnie, though he never was charged with that offense. The sexual assault accusation was presented at Mr. Dorsey’s sentencing; Mr. Dorsey’s lawyers say he had no memory of a sexual assault.

Mr. Dorsey, whose current lawyers assert that he was in a drug-induced psychosis at the time of the killings, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder. He was later sentenced to death.

Death notices and news articles published at the time of the killings said Mr. Bonnie, 28, was an auto mechanic who liked to fish, hunt and camp. Ms. Bonnie, 25, was an emergency medical technician who had worked in local government, belonged to a Methodist church and rode motorcycles. The couple had a 4-year-old daughter who was in the home but was not physically harmed.

In his clemency application to the governor, Mr. Dorsey argued that he had received bad advice from court-appointed lawyers who received a flat fee to take his case and did little to explore potential mitigating factors or plea deals. Mr. Dorsey pleaded guilty without any agreement with prosecutors regarding sentencing. One of the lawyers who represented Mr. Dorsey at that stage of his case declined to comment, and the other did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Ernesto Londoño contributed reporting.


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