Supreme Court denies execution reprieve for Missouri inmate

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Posted: Mar 17, 2015 11:12 PM
Supreme Court denies execution reprieve for Missouri inmate

BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's oldest death row inmate was executed Tuesday night for the 1996 shooting death of a sheriff's deputy after the state's governor and the U.S. Supreme Court denied last-minute appeals to spare his life. Attorneys for 74-year-old Cecil Clayton had argued that Clayton has brain damage from a 1972 sawmill accident and worsening dementia.

Here's a look at the case:

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THE CRIME

Clayton was convicted of fatally shooting Christopher Castetter, a sheriff's deputy in rural southwest Missouri's Barry County. Castetter, then 29 and a father of three, was investigating a suspicious vehicle near Cassville on the night before Thanksgiving in 1996 when he was shot in the forehead while he was in his car. His vehicle was found against a tree with the engine racing and wheels spinning. Castetter died at a hospital the next day.

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INMATE'S CLAIMS

Clayton's attorneys argued that he suffered from lingering effects of the sawmill accident in which a piece of wood shot through his skull. Surgeons removed about 8 percent of Clayton's brain, including one-fifth of the frontal lobe that governs impulse control and judgment.

His lawyers said Clayton had an IQ of 71 and that psychiatric evaluations indicate he doesn't understand the significance of his scheduled execution or the reasons for it, making him ineligible for execution under state and federal law.

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LAST-MINUTE APPEALS

Clayton's attorneys appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and asked the Missouri governor for clemency, insisting that the inmate's deteriorating mental health left him convinced his conviction was a plot against him. They argued that Clayton also believed God would rescue him at the last minute, "after which time he will travel the country playing the piano and preaching the gospel."

In part because of his dementia, his attorneys said in their appeal, the lethal injection would or would likely cause Clayton "excruciating or tortuous pain and needless suffering" and allow the state to use him as an experiment of its execution protocol on someone with severe brain damage.

The state countered by saying Clayton would be executed "rapidly and painlessly" in accordance with the constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

A divided Supreme Court denied the appeal Tuesday evening, saying four justices would have granted a stay.

The office of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement Tuesday evening that the Democrat had denied Clayton's clemency request.

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LEGAL SETBACKS

The Missouri Supreme Court had declined to intervene Saturday in a 4-3 ruling. The court's majority concluded there's no evidence that Clayton, despite his brain injury, isn't capable of understanding his circumstances.

The dissenting opinion countered that Clayton's attorneys "presented reasonable grounds to believe his overall mental condition has deteriorated and he is intellectually disabled."

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SIMILAR CASES

Clayton's claims of mental incompetence mirrored those of Ricky Ray Rector, who was executed in 1992 in Arkansas for fatally shooting a police officer. His attorneys failed to sway then-Gov. Bill Clinton that he had been left brain damaged by a self-inflicted bullet wound prior to his arrest.

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MISSOURI EXECUTIONS

Clayton's execution was Missouri's second this year. The state executed a record 10 people in 2014. Clayton's execution was the first to be scheduled in Missouri for 6 p.m. Tuesday after decades of having lethal injections set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.