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Opponents of death penalty seek Gov. Nixon intervention

Tuesday, January 4, 2011 | 9:31 a.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Death penalty opponents and the attorney for a southeast Missouri man convicted and sentenced to death in a 1994 murder-for-hire plot are asking Gov. Jay Nixon to stop what would be the state's first execution in nearly two years.

Richard Clay is scheduled to die on Jan. 12 for the slaying of Randy Martindale. Prosecutors say Clay killed the Missouri Bootheel car dealer at the request of Stacy Martindale, who was having an affair with a friend of Clay's.

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A federal judge threw out Clay's 1995 conviction six years later and ordered a new trial, but an appeals court reinstated the conviction and death sentence in 2004.

Clay's case was one of seven in which judges found prosecutorial misconduct, overturned convictions on appeal or raised questions about the courtroom tactics of former statewide prosecutor Kenny Hulshof, a Republican who later served six terms in Congress and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2008 against Nixon — his former boss as attorney general.

The disputed Hulshof cases include those of Dale Helmig, who was freed on bond last month pending a state appeal after a northwest Missouri judge overturned his 1996 conviction for killing his mother; and Josh Kezer, a southeast Missouri man released in 2009 after nearly 16 years in prison after a judge ruled that key evidence was kept from Kezer's defense attorneys.

Similar allegations were raised against Hulshof and former New Madrid County prosecutor Riley Bock in the Clay case. Clay's friend Chuck Sanders, who was involved with Martindale's wife, testified in 2001 that he lied about the 10-year sentence he expected to receive as a plea bargain. He eventually received five years of probation.

Hulshof, who is now in private practice, declined an Associated Press interview request Monday through a spokeswoman at the Kansas City law firm of Polsinelli Shughart, where he works.

Bock called the attempts by Clay's supporters to emphasize Hulshof's record in other cases misguided.

"This was not Kenny's case. This was my case," he said. "He assisted me, but that's all he did. I called the shots and made the decisions."

"I don't think there's any question (about Clay's guilt)," added Bock, who stepped down as prosecutor in 2002 and is now New Madrid County's public administrator.

Jennifer Herndon, Clay's attorney, said that in addition to the clemency request she also plans to file a request for an emergency stay of execution and a new appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court before next week.

Herndon and death penalty opponents will rally support for their efforts Wednesday morning at a Capitol news conference. Scheduled speakers include Kezer, who last year settled a wrongful conviction lawsuit against Scott County for an undisclosed amount.

Herndon said she wasn't optimistic about the request before Nixon, who has never granted a clemency request or pardon. Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the governor "will make a determination after a full and fair review."

With just one exception, Missouri executions had been on hold since early 2006 over concerns about the state's lethal injection procedure. One man was executed in May 2009 — after the state developed written protocols that were upheld by a federal judge who had halted executions. But they were then put on hold again while a federal appeals court reviewed those procedures.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, essentially clearing the way to resume executions.

 


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