Portrait of Jay Nixon

Will Missouri’s Governor intercede to prevent an execution this month?

A group of unlikely allies is urging Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to grant clemency to John Winfield, a man scheduled to be executed on June 18th a little after midnight. The group, whose declarations and letters in support of clemency were filed along with Mr. Winfield’s clemency petition today, includes a former juror in his case, the victim’s daughter, and the Missouri NAACP.

Governor Nixon has more than one good reason to commute Mr. Winfield’s sentence to life without parole. Taken together, the numerous issues surrounding Mr. Winfield’s case make a compelling argument to spare his life:

One former juror says she would have voted for life. Ms. Kimberly Turner, who served on Mr. Winfield’s jury, voted for life without parole but changed her vote after the court’s bailiff instructed the jurors to keep deliberating. That one vote for life without parole would have saved Mr. Winfield’s life.

Mr. Winfield’s jury was infected by racial bias. Ms. Turner, who is white, also attests that the prosecutor played upon the jury’s racial biases (the jury in Mr. Winfield’s case was all white except for one African-American). She states that the prosecutor painted Mr. Winfield as a “thug” who drove around St. Louis in a Cadillac with tinted windows, yet the jury did not get to hear testimony about how hard Mr. Winfield was working to support his children at the time.

In their letter in support of clemency sent to Governor Nixon, the Missouri NAACP wrote, “As individuals committed to equality of rights and the elimination of racial discrimination, we are deeply concerned about the role that racial bias played in determining whether Mr. Winfield shall live or die, and we ask that clemency be granted to correct this injustice.”

Missouri shrouds its execution process in secrecy. Since the state intends to execute Mr. Winfield with compounded drugs—whose quality can vary between batches—it is essential to know the supplier in order to discern the quality of the drug. However, Missouri has kept “virtually all information about [the supplier] hidden.” Because of this, it’s impossible to know whether Mr. Winfield can be executed without violating the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. Mr. Winfield’s lawyers have also challenged whether they actually need to propose an alternate means of their own client’s execution, saying it violates their ethical responsibilities.

Mr. Winfield is a model prisoner who dedicates his time in prison to helping others. A staff member at the Department of Corrections has called him a “changed man,” citing how Mr. Winfield looks after inmates in the special needs unit and cares for younger or weaker inmates at the prison as examples of Mr. Winfield’s exceptional work ethic and “dedication to helping those who are in pain.”

The victim’s daughter does not want Mr. Winfield, her father, to be executed. She has forgiven him and does not want to see him executed.

The risks and uncertainties surrounding this execution are too great to ignore. The Missouri Supreme Court and Governor Nixon should exercise their powers to stay the execution and commute his death sentence to life without parole.

Photo by Bernard Pollack released under a Creative Commons license.