UPDATE: Missouri court sets execution date in 1989 murder case

Thursday, August 19, 2010 | 12:30 p.m. CDT; updated 3:52 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 19, 2010

ST. LOUIS — After five years of court cases and appeals questioning Missouri's three-drug execution method, the state Supreme Court on Thursday set a date to put convicted killer Roderick Nunley to death.

Nunley, 45, is scheduled to be executed Oct. 20 for his role in the abduction, rape and murder of a 15-year-old Kansas City girl in 1989.

Nunley's attorney, Jennifer Herndon, called the decision to set the date disappointing. She said she will appeal and will ask Gov. Jay Nixon to grant clemency.

Herndon said it would be unfair to execute Nunley because he is among about a dozen death row inmates who filed suit in 2009 raising yet another concern over Missouri executions — saying the state obtains the execution drugs without a prescription and administers them unlawfully.

"We'll still try to obtain a stay based on that litigation," Herndon said. "There are a lot of signs that there is merit to that lawsuit."

A spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said he declined comment.

With just one exception, Missouri executions have been on hold since early 2006 over concerns about whether they violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantee against undue suffering. That year, a federal judge halted executions in the state after a surgeon who previously supervised them testified he was dyslexic, sometimes transposed numbers and operated without written procedures or supervision.

The state then developed written protocols that were later upheld by the same federal judge who halted the executions. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, essentially clearing the way to resume executions.

The same day the court issued its ruling, Koster asked the Missouri Supreme Court to set an execution date — not for Nunley, but for Joseph Franklin, a white supremacist responsible for several killings, including a sniper shooting of a man outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977.

It wasn't clear why the Supreme Court set the date for Nunley first. A spokeswoman said she did not know the reasoning. Herndon said she didn't know, either.

Missouri has executed 67 men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1989, but only once since October 2005. The lone exception was Dennis Skillicorn, put to death on May 20, 2009, for killing a man who stopped to help when a car Skillicorn and two others were in broke down on Interstate 70 near Kingdom City.

Nunley and Michael Taylor, 43, both from Kansas City, are both on death row for the 1989 abduction, rape and murder of 15-year-old Ann Harrison. Taylor was hours away from being executed in February 2006 when the procedure was halted.

Authorities said Taylor and Nunley used drugs and stole a car, then spotted the girl at a school bus stop and forced her into the car. They drove to Nunley's mother's house, where Taylor raped her in the basement.

The men then forced the girl into the trunk of the car and tied her up. Concerned that she would identify them, they used kitchen knives to stab her to death.

The men drove away and parked the car, leaving Harrison in the trunk. Nunley gave a videotaped confession to police.

Both are among 49 men on Missouri's death row.

Nunley talked to the Missourian in 2007 about his views on death and the crime he'd committed while using cocaine.

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