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Columbia Missourian

State court delays another execution

By JIM SALTER/The Associated Press
September 5, 2008 | 2:55 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — For the second time in less than a month, the Missouri Supreme Court has given a reprieve to a death row inmate.

John Middleton was scheduled to die by injection Sept. 17 for the 1995 shooting deaths of three people in northwest Missouri. But late Wednesday, the state Supreme Court issued a stay of execution. The court also set an Oct. 7 date to hear oral arguments on a legal challenge filed by Middleton and other inmates and death penalty opponents.

Calls seeking comment from Middleton's attorney, John Simon of St. Louis, and Attorney General Jay Nixon were not returned.

On Aug. 20, the state Supreme Court postponed the scheduled Aug. 27 execution of Dennis Skillicorn by at least 30 days after his attorneys claimed prison officials obstructed efforts to prepare a clemency petition.

Missouri is among several states that have put executions on hold in recent years while the courts weighed the constitutionality of lethal injection. Missouri hasn't executed an inmate since 2005.

Middleton and Skillicorn are among the 16 death row inmates, relatives, clergy and others who continue to challenge Missouri's method of lethal injection, claiming it violates state law.

Middleton was convicted of killing three people in 1995 to hide his methamphetamine operation.

Skillicorn was sentenced to die for the 1994 murder of Richard Drummond, an Excelsior Springs businessman who stopped to help Skillicorn and Allen Nicklasson when their car broke down on Interstate 70 in Callaway County.

At the time, Skillicorn was on parole for an earlier Missouri murder conviction. Following Drummond's murder, Skillicorn and Nicklasson fled to Arizona, where they later received life sentences for two more murders.