Death penalty

Missouri death row inmate nears execution after killing his cousin and her husband

He would be the first person in Missouri put to death this year after four executions in 2023.

The fate of a Missouri man convicted of killing his cousin and her husband nearly two decades ago appears to rest with the U.S. Supreme Court, with just hours to go before the scheduled execution.

Brian Dorsey, 52, is scheduled to die by injection Tuesday night at the state prison in Bonne Terre. Gov. Mike Parson on Monday turned down a clemency request. Two appeals are still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. One focuses on Dorsey’s record of good behavior since his incarceration.

The other says his life should be spared because his trial lawyers had a conflict of interest. The pair of public defenders were paid a $12,000 flat fee that provided them with no incentive to invest time in his case, the appeal said. On their recommendation, Dorsey pleaded guilty despite having no agreement with prosecutors that he would be spared the death penalty.

Dorsey would be the first person in Missouri put to death this year after four executions in 2023. Another man, David Hosier, is scheduled for execution June 11 for killing a Jefferson City woman in 2009. Nationally, four men have been executed so far in 2024 — one each in Alabama, Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma.

Dorsey, 52, formerly of Jefferson City, was convicted of killing Sarah and Ben Bonnie on Dec. 23, 2006, at their home near New Bloomfield. Prosecutors said that earlier that day, Dorsey called Sarah Bonnie seeking to borrow money to pay two drug dealers who were at his apartment.

Dorsey went to the Bonnies’ home that night. After they went to bed, Dorsey took a shotgun from the garage and killed both of them before sexually assaulting Sarah Bonnie’s body, prosecutors said. Police said Dorsey stole several items from the home and tried to pay off a drug debt with some of the stolen goods.

A day after the killings, Sarah Bonnie’s parents went to check on the Bonnies after they failed to show up for a family gathering. They found the couple’s 4-year-old daughter on the couch watching TV. She told her grandparents that her mother “won’t wake up.”

Dorsey surrendered to police three days after the killings.

Attorneys for Dorsey said he suffered from drug-induced psychosis at the time of the crime. In prison, he’s gotten clean, they said.

Dozens of corrections officers vouched for his rehabilitation.

“The Brian I have known for years could not hurt anyone,” one wrote in the clemency petition. “The Brian I know does not deserve to be executed.”

In a letter to Parson as part of the clemency petition, former Missouri Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff wrote that he was on the court when it turned aside an appeal of his death sentence in 2009. Now, he says, that decision was wrong.

“Missouri Public Defenders now do not use the flat fee for defense in recognition of the professional standard that such an arrangement gives the attorney an inherent financial conflict of interest,” Wolff wrote.

Dorsey’s execution raised new concerns about Missouri’s protocol, which includes no provision for the use of anesthetics. Dorsey's attorneys describe him as obese, diabetic and a former intravenous drug user, all factors that could have made it difficult to obtain a vein to inject the lethal drug. When that happens, a cutdown procedure is sometimes necessary.

A cutdown involves an incision, then the use of forceps to pull tissue away from an interior vein. A federal lawsuit on behalf of Dorsey argued that without a local anesthetic he would be in so much pain that it would impede his right to religious freedom by preventing him from having meaningful interaction with his spiritual adviser, including the administration of last rites.

A settlement was reached Saturday in which the state took unspecified steps to limit the risk of extreme pain. The settlement didn’t spell out the specific changes agreed to by the state, including whether anesthetics would be available.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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