UPDATED: Supreme Court Stays Execution of Missouri Inmate, TCP Brief from Former Judges Frames the Issues

On October 24, fifteen former state and federal district judges asked the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the execution of Missouri death row inmate Mark Christeson so that the federal courts could have an opportunity to hear his appeals.  In a “friend of the court” brief organized by The Constitution Project, the judges argued that Christeson had been abandoned by his court-appointed counsel and, as a result, had never received federal review of his sentence.  To proceed with the execution absent federal review would “cast a pall over the [judicial] process,” the brief claims.

Christeson was convicted of a 1998 murder of a woman and her two children in rural Missouri.  At his trial, jurors never heard evidence that Christeson was raised in a climate of poverty, abuse, crime, and incest – all bearing on both his culpability for the crime and on the appropriateness of a death sentence in his case.  Christeson was denied federal court review because his court-appointed attorneys missed a deadline by four months in 2005.  He is the only inmate on Missouri’s death row that has not received any federal review of his conviction.

The Kansas City Star carried an Associated Press story on the Circuit Court brief and MissouriNet ran an extensive interview with Sarah Turberville, TCP senior policy counsel who organized the brief.  The brief was written with pro bono assistance from Goldstein & Russell P.C.

UPDATE: The 8th Circuit rejected Christeson’s request for a stay, and he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  On October 27, the judges filed a brief in support of Christeson’s request for the Supreme Court to take jurisdiction. The Associated Press reported on the appeal to the Supreme Court.

UPDATE 2: On October 28, just hours before his scheduled execution, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Christeson a temporary stay with three justices dissenting.  The fact that a strong majority of the court at least wanted to consider Christeson’s writ of certiorari is a welcome sign.  However, there is no guarantee the court will accept the case, and Christeson’s road to appeal remains blocked by the lower courts.

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