Missouri prepares for one execution, sets date for another

Friday, March 21, 2014 | 4:52 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — As Missouri prepares for its fifth execution in five months, the Missouri Supreme Court set the date Friday for another, continuing what could be a record year for executions in the state.

Jeffrey Ferguson is scheduled to die by injection Wednesday on charges of killing 17-year-old Kelli Hall in St. Charles County in 1989. She was raped and strangled after being abducted from a service station.

Ferguson's attorneys filed appeals Thursday to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking that the execution be delayed until lower courts can decide if a stay should be granted. Ferguson's attorneys also claim that his conviction was based, in part, on false testimony from an FBI agent.

On Friday, the Missouri Supreme Court set an April 23 execution date for William Rousan. He was sentenced to death on charges of killing 62-year-old Grace Lewis, who lived on a farm near Bonne Terre, in 1993. He was also sentenced to life in prison without parole on charges of killing Grace Lewis' husband, Charles Lewis, 67.

Attorneys for Ferguson and Rousan did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Missouri is scheduled to again use pentobarbital in the executions despite a lawsuit filed on behalf of death row inmates, questioning the secrecy of the state's process in acquiring the drug. Missouri officials refuse to disclose which compounding pharmacy manufactures it.

Missouri executed Joseph Paul Franklin in November and Allen Nicklasson in December. So far this year, Herbert Smulls was put to death in January and Michael Taylor in February.

The record year for executions in Missouri was 1999, when nine men were put to death. 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.

Court appeals for death row inmates continued even as executions were on hold. As a result, many of the 42 men on Missouri's death row have exhausted their options.

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