UPDATE: Missouri could see record number of executions this year

Friday, March 14, 2014 | 3:25 p.m. CDT; updated 4:01 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 14, 2014

ST. LOUIS — Missouri is on pace for a record number of executions in 2014, with two more inmates on the verge of getting their execution dates.

The Missouri Supreme Court issued show cause orders Thursday in the cases of Leon Taylor and Michael Worthington. The orders give attorneys for the two men until April 14 to show why an execution date should not be set.

Missouri executed two men late last year and has already put to death two other convicted killers in the first two months of 2014 — Herbert Smulls in January and Michael Taylor in February.

Jeffrey Ferguson is scheduled to die March 26 on charges of abducting and killing a teenager in St. Charles County in 1989. In addition to Taylor and Worthington, the Supreme Court has issued show cause orders for five other death row inmates, meaning their execution dates could be set soon.

Missouri's highest number of executions in a year was nine in 1999. The state executed eight men in 1938 and seven in 2001.

Executions slowed considerably in the mid-2000s as courts weighed lawsuits questioning whether execution drugs could cause pain and suffering for the inmate and amount to constitutionally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually cleared the way for lethal injections, but from 2005 to 2013 Missouri executed just two men.

The delay didn't slow other court appeals, and many of the 42 men on Missouri's death row have exhausted their options.

"There are several guys who are in that situation," said Kent Gipson, the Kansas City attorney for Worthington. "There are 15 to 20 guys who have exhausted their appeals in the last few years."

An attorney for Taylor did not return a message seeking comment.

Taylor, 56, was sentenced to die for killing a suburban Kansas City service station attendant during a 1994 robbery. He tried to kill the victim's 8-year-old stepdaughter, too, but the gun misfired when Taylor aimed at her head.

Worthington, 43, plead guilty to raping, robbing and killing his neighbor, Melinda Griffin, in 1995 in Lake St. Louis. He claimed the crime occurred when he blacked out after a four-day binge on alcohol and cocaine.

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