Wording of stay issued by Carnahan helps inmate evade execution

Sunday, June 7, 2009 | 7:13 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY , Mo. — A man who's been on death row for 25 years might never be executed because Gov. Mel Carnahan issued a stay that was not resolved before he died in a plane crash in 2000.

William Theodore Boliek Jr. was sentenced to death for the August 1983 shooting of Jody Harless, 18, of Kansas City.

Carnahan issued a stay two days before Boliek was scheduled to die in August 1997. The governor ordered a board of inquiry to investigate claims that Boliek did not get adequate representation during his trial and later appeals.

Carnahan did not announce a decision before he died in October of 2000. Lawyers for his successor, Bob Holden, said the stay was worded in a way that only Carnahan could act on it.

State officials asked the Missouri Supreme Court in 2001 to invalidate the stay and set an execution date, but the court rejected the request.

"The court's decision means that the stay will remain in effect and that Boliek will stay in prison for the rest of his life," said Scott Holste, spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon.

Harless' family is frustrated by the situation.

"I think he should have been dead a long time ago," said Darren Goodwin, Harless' older brother. "It's very disappointing."

Boliek shot Harless twice, the second time as she pleaded for her life. She was killed because she had gone along with another sister, Boliek and two other men on a robbery, according to testimony at Boliek's trial.

Afterward, Boliek, co-defendant Vernon Wait and the Harless sisters decided to leave town and hide in southern Missouri, where Boliek's parents lived. Along the way, they robbed a store in Nevada, Mo.

Eventually, Boliek and Wait decided to get rid of witnesses. Jody Harless was shot during a rest stop in Oregon County. Boliek told her sister that he shot Jody in the face so she couldn't be identified.

At his trial, Boliek claimed that the first shot was an accident and that Wait fired the second, fatal shot. The jury convicted him of capital murder, and he was later sentenced to death.

During later appeals, attorneys for Boliek said his trial attorney failed to present evidence of mental illness and brain damage Boliek had suffered as a child. The appeal was eventually rejected by courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Carnahan stopped the execution on Aug. 25, 1997, and a spokesman said "significant questions" had been raised about the quality of Boliek's trial defense.

In the request for clemency, Boliek's attorneys argued that he would not have been sentenced to death if he had received competent legal help at trial and on appeal.

The petition said his trial attorney was unprepared for the trial's penalty phase. That lawyer later testified that he was "shocked, devastated and panicked" by the jury's verdict because he had not prepared for the next phase.

The board of inquiry had submitted a confidential report to Carnahan, but he did not announce a decision before the fatal plane crash while he was campaigning for the U.S. Senate.


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