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Death row inmate seeks independent clemency review

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 | 6:43 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The next Missouri inmate scheduled to die by lethal injection wants Gov. Jay Nixon to appoint an independent panel to review his clemency request under a little-used provision in state law that hasn't been invoked in nearly two decades.

John Middleton, 54, is scheduled to be executed July 16 at the state prison in Bonne Terre. The onetime methamphetamine dealer was convicted in the 1995 drug-related killings of three people in northern Missouri. His conviction in the Harrison County death of Iowa resident Alfred Pinegar was cited as an aggravating factor justifying the death sentences he received for the two subsequent murder convictions.

The petition for an independent Board of Inquiry argues that the governor cannot impartially rule on Middleton's request to commute his death sentence since Nixon was the state's attorney general for 16 years, including when Middleton stood trial.

That alternative is allowed under Missouri law but has been invoked rarely, most recently in 1997 when former Gov. Mel Carnahan appointed a three-person panel to review the death sentence given to William Theodore Boliek Jr. two days before his scheduled execution. Carnahan also convened a similar panel three years earlier in another case, but Nixon has rejected similar requests as governor.

Nixon's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. In 2011, he commuted the death sentence of Richard Clay to life without parole but offered no explanation while maintaining his belief in Clay's guilt.

"An inherent conflict arises when the individual in the role of neutral decision-maker has a pre-existing personal or professional interest in the matter before him," reads the request to Nixon, which was made late Tuesday. "This is rightly recognized in every facet of our judicial system."

The petition reiterates claims of new evidence suggesting Middleton's innocence in the Pinegar killing, though those assertions have been rejected by the Missouri Supreme Court in a request for a new trial and dismissed by the Attorney General's Office.

A new witness says he was beaten in front of Pinegar's corpse and threatened with death by two rival meth dealers to scare him into silence. The former drug dealer who claims he was beaten testified that authorities never interviewed him about the three killings attributed to Middleton, even though one of his assailants admitted to participating in the attack against the dealer when interviewed by a state trooper.

Middleton's petition also notes that the sheriffs of Harrison and Grundy counties paid the same meth supplier accused in that beating $1,000 in exchange for his testimony against Middleton while also arranging to have drug and firearm charges against him dropped in exchange for that testimony.

Middleton also alleges that he was in jail in southern Iowa on an unrelated charge when Pinegar was killed but was identified as a suspect due to an erroneous calculation of Pinegar's time of death.


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