BONNE TERRE — A Missouri man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing an 11-year-old girl whose body was dumped along a river was put to death early Wednesday, the first execution in the state in nearly two years.
Martin Link, 47, died by injection at 12:15 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre. His fate was sealed when Gov. Jay Nixon denied a clemency request on Monday and several appeals failed to persuade the courts to intervene.
Ernest Lee Johnson has been on death row since 1995. He was convicted of the 1994 killings of Fred Jones, Mary Bratcher and Mable Scruggs, employees at a Casey's General Store on Ballenger Lane in Columbia. He has appealed his sentence to the Missouri Supreme Court, based on evidence that he is mentally disabled and therefore not eligible for the death penalty. A decision is pending.
Earl Ringo Jr. has been on death row since 1999. He was convicted in the 1998 murders of JoAnna Baysinger, manager of the Ruby Tuesday on Stadium Boulevard, and Dennis Poyser, a food delivery man. He has challenged his sentence based on his claim that the federal law requires a doctor to prescribe or administer the sodium thiopental used in an execution.
Convicts executed for Boone County crimes
- Gary Lee Roll, executed Aug. 3, 2000
- Ralph Davis, executed April 28, 1999
- Floyd Cochran, executed Sept. 26, 1947
Attorney Jennifer Herndon's efforts to spare Link's life belied his own indifference. Link tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrist in 2008 and spent his last few years in prison in solitary confinement, Herndon said.
The execution was the first in Missouri since May 2009 and just the second since early 2006.
Elissa Self-Braun disappeared on the morning of Jan. 11, 1991, while walking to catch a school bus to take her to a school for gifted children in St. Louis. Police and neighbors began a frantic search.
Four days later, the girl's body was found amid debris on the banks of the St. Francis River, some 135 miles south of St. Louis.
Later that month, police in suburban St. Louis saw a car with a headlight out and tried to pull it over. Link was the driver. He sped away and crashed.
Inside the car, officers found petroleum jelly with flecks of blood. Meanwhile, investigators took DNA evidence from Elissa's body. Link's DNA matched that DNA; the girl's DNA matched the DNA in the blood found in the petroleum jelly jar.
Executions in Missouri and elsewhere were on hold for years as the courts decided whether lethal injection could violate the inmate's constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June cleared the way for executions to resume.
Prison officials in many of the 35 states with the death penalty are struggling with a shortage of one of the three drugs used in executions, sodium thiopental, which is an anesthetic that renders the condemned inmate unconscious before the other drugs kill him.
Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Cline said Missouri had about 40 units of sodium thiopental in stock before Link's execution, and it takes about 10 units for each execution. Missouri's supply of sodium thiopental expires March 1. The state has no further executions scheduled before then.
Link's execution comes about a month after Nixon stepped in to spare the life of another condemned man, Richard Clay, who was convicted in a southeast Missouri murder-for-hire plot. Days before Clay was scheduled to die, Nixon commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole, but refused to say why — though he said he remained convinced that Clay was guilty.
Since 2005, Missouri's executions have taken place at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, which is 30 miles east of the Potosi Correctional Center, where death row inmates are housed.