The state will move all future executions to a prison in the eastern Missouri town Bonne Terre, starting with the scheduled April 27 execution of convicted killer Donald Jones, Department of Corrections officials said on Tuesday.
Missouri has executed 62 men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1989, most recently executing Stanley Hall on March 16 for abducting a woman and throwing her over a Mississippi River bridge railing in 1994.
The first inmate executed in modern times — George “Tiny” Mercer — was put to death at the prison in Jefferson City. The other 61 executions were carried out at the Potosi Correctional Center, about 25 miles west of Bonne Terre. Missouri uses lethal injection.
Corrections director Larry Crawford said the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre — about 115 miles southeast of Columbia — was built for handling executions, and the Potosi prison was not.
Like the Potosi prison, the ERDCC is a maximum-security prison. It opened in 2003 and has a capacity of 2,684 inmates.
Corrections spokesman John Fougere said the Bonne Terre site has a specially designed holding cell to house the condemned prisoner in his final hours. The viewing area is bigger, allowing for additional state witnesses and relatives and friends of both the condemned killer and the victim of his or her crime.
“It just makes sense for us to move executions to the Bonne Terre institution,” Fougere said.
Another factor in the decision was the emotional toll executions take on staff at Potosi, which will continue to house condemned prisoners, Fougere said. Despite the fact that all 54 men on death row are convicted killers, prison staff tend to develop a relationship with the men, he said. Fougere said many other states — including Texas, far and away the national leader in executions — house death row inmates at one prison and execute them at another. He said the risk of escape is virtually nonexistent.
“We routinely transfer violent offenders to various institutions,” Fougere said. “For example, if one is disruptive and needs to be moved to a different facility, or if one needs a medical procedure at a hospital. We take the strictest precautions you can imagine when it comes to moving these people.”
Jones, 38, was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1993 beating and stabbing of his grandmother, Dorothy Knuckles, 68.