In this April 12, 2005 file photo is the death chamber at the Missouri Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Mo. The Associated Press and four other news organizations filed a lawsuit May 15, 2014 challenging the secret way in which Missouri obtains the drugs it uses in lethal injections, arguing the state's actions prohibit public oversight of the death penalty.
James A. Finley/AP

Missouri execution stayed by federal judge


A federal judge has stayed a Missouri inmate’s execution after ruling that there is evidence that the state intimidated a corrections worker out of supporting a clemency petition.

Judge Catherine Perry ordered the execution of John Winfield be halted pending future court actions. Winfield was set to be executed on June 18th. The Missouri Attorney General’s office has not yet said whether it plans to appeal.

Winfield’s lawyers have alleged that Missouri Corrections officials intimidated a prison laundry director at Potosi Correction Center out of writing a letter in support of clemency for Winfield. Terry Cole, the laundry director, had told a defense lawyer that he would write a letter testifying that Winfield was a model prisoner who should not be put to death.

Corrections officials allegedly investigated the director for “over-familiarity” with Winfield. Perry ruled Thursday that this investigation was evidence of interference.

“This 20-year corrections staff member was made to fear for his job when he wanted to tell the truth about Mr. Winfield’s remarkable rehabilitation and the positive good he will continue to do if his life is spared,” Joseph Luby, Winfield’s lawyer, said in a statement. “We urge Governor Nixon to commute Mr. Winfield’s death sentence to a sentence of life without parole.”

Recent appeals for stays of execution based on state execution protocols and the secrecy surrounding them have not been successful. Since the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma went horribly wrong, leaving Lockett writhing in pain and eventually killing him with a heart attack, there have been questions about whether state drug protocols are safe enough to use in executions or if it is possible to humanely execute inmates.

In May, a bipartisan panel released a report recommending dozens of changes to make the process more transparent and fair, including changes to the clemency process.