ST. LOUIS — Missouri death row inmate Jeffrey Ferguson is holding out hope that his life will be spared, but he is ready to accept his fate, either way, his attorney said Monday.
Ferguson, 59, is scheduled to die by injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for raping and killing a 17-year-old girl in 1989. Prosecutors say Ferguson abducted Kelli Hall from the St. Charles service station where she worked, sexually assaulted her and stabbed her to death. Her body was found 13 days after her abduction in Maryland Heights, another St. Louis suburb.
Attorney Jennifer Herndon has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene, citing concerns that Missouri's execution drug, purchased from an unnamed compounding pharmacy, could cause pain and suffering for Ferguson. Another appeal, to the U.S. Supreme Court, seeks a delay in the execution until the courts can determine other issues, including whether Ferguson's conviction was based in part on false testimony from an FBI agent.
Gov. Jay Nixon was also weighing a clemency request.
Herndon said Ferguson remains positive, despite his approaching execution date.
"He's very religious, truly very religious," she said. "He doesn't want to die, but he feels like when he does he'll be with Jesus, so how can that be all bad?"
The execution would be Missouri's fifth in five months and its fifth straight using a single drug, pentobarbital. Though critics have raised concerns about the drug and the secretive ways Missouri obtains and uses it to kill inmates, there were no obvious signs of suffering during the last four executions: Joseph Paul Franklin in November; Allen Nicklasson in December; Herbert Smulls in January; and Michael Taylor in February.
Ferguson is remorseful for his crime, Herdon said. She said he was so drunk that he didn't recall abducting and killing Hall.
"He was an alcoholic," Herndon said. "He doesn't remember what he did, but he's looked at the evidence and knows he was responsible. What he did really affects him."
St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said it was a "horrible" crime that merits the death penalty.
"She gets abducted, abused in unspeakable manner by this guy and then slowly murdered and dumped in a field like a bag of garbage," McCulloch said.
A phone listing for Kelli Hall's father, Jim Hall, could not be found, but he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he wants to see Ferguson die for his crime.
"I look forward to being there and hopeful he'll see my face before he dies," Hall said.
Rita Linhardt, chairwoman of the board of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said Ferguson has been a model prisoner since turning his life around behind bars and accepting Christianity. Ferguson helped start a hospice program for other inmates, facilitated a program in which victims talked to inmates about the harms of their crimes, and has counseled other inmates.
"He's making a positive difference," Linhardt said. "Society doesn't gain anything by his execution. He's not the same man he was 24 years ago."
McCulloch said Ferguson should be commended for his work while in prison, but still must pay for his crime with his life.
"It doesn't excuse him from receiving the punishment he so richly deserves," McCulloch said.