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St. Louis killer to be executed tonight

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:17 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Lawyers and death penalty opponents fought Monday to halt the execution of a St. Louis man twice sentenced to die.

Barring a court ruling or clemency from Gov. Matt Blunt, Vernon Brown, 51, is scheduled to die by injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre. It would be the third execution in Missouri this year.

In two unrelated cases, Brown was convicted of choking and stabbing to death 19-year-old Synetta Ford on May 7, 1985, and of strangling 9-year-old Janet Perkins on Oct. 24, 1986. The pending execution is for Perkins’ murder.

Brown saw the child walking home from school and persuaded her to come inside his home. He locked his stepsons in their bedroom and took the girl to the basement, where he bound her feet and a hand with a wire coat hanger and strangled her with a rope. Her body was found in trash bags in an alley behind Brown’s house the next day.

Brown’s lawyers acknowledge in a clemency application that both murder convictions are “probably warranted.” But, they say, “the death sentences are not, either as a matter of law or a matter of humanity.”

They describe Brown as a man damaged early in life.

Brown’s attorneys said after he was knocked unconscious as a 5-year-old, he suffered headaches and was known to lapse into trances.

Brown, they said, was sexually and physically abused as a child by his grandfather, George McGuire, now deceased.

“Vernon was chained naked and beaten with a switch, a belt, a buggy whip and a bull whip. This abuse left a trail of welts and bruises. When anyone in the family protested this treatment, George tied Vernon to a bed and severely beat him yet again,” the clemency application said.

Attorney General Jay Nixon said Brown must be held responsible for the killings.

“Obviously, the juries didn’t think someone other than Vernon Brown should be blamed for these murders, and neither do I,” Nixon said.

On Friday, a federal judge in St. Louis denied a request for a temporary restraining order to block the execution, after lawyer John Simon argued that the lethal injection could subject Brown to excessive pain, citing an April article in the Lancet medical journal.


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