KCUR News
9:47 am
Mon February 7, 2011

Missouri Execution Date Looms

St Louis, MO. –

Missouri death row inmate Martin Link is "hopeful but realistic" as the moments tick away before he is scheduled to die, his attorney said Monday.

The state plans to execute Link, 47, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at the prison in Bonne Terre for the kidnap, rape and murder of 11-year-old Elissa Self in 1991.

Link's attorney, Jennifer Herndon, has two court appeals pending, one before a federal judge, the other before the Missouri Supreme Court. Both question the legality of Missouri's lethal injection protocol. She has also filed a clemency request with Gov. Jay Nixon.

Link declined an interview request.

"He absolutely knows it could go either way," Herndon said. "He's hopeful but realistic."

The execution would be the first in Missouri since May 2009 and just the second since early 2006. Executions in Missouri and elsewhere were on hold for years as the courts decided whether lethal injection could violate the inmate's constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June cleared the way for executions to resume.

But prison officials in most of the 35 states with the death penalty are struggling with a shortage of one of the three drugs used in executions, sodium thiopental, which is an anesthetic that renders the condemned inmate unconscious before the other drugs kill him.

Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Cline said Missouri has about 40 units of sodium thiopental in stock, and it takes about 10 units for each execution. Missouri 's supply of sodium thiopental expires March 1. The state has no further executions scheduled until then.

Link's scheduled execution comes about a month after Nixon stepped in to spare the life of another condemned man, Richard Clay, who was convicted in a southeast Missouri murder-for-hire plot.

Days before Clay was scheduled to die, Nixon commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole, but refused to say why - though he said he remained convinced that Clay was guilty. It wasn't clear if Nixon's decision was related to concerns over sodium thiopental.

Missouri typically uses a dose of sodium thiopental in execution rehearsals just to make sure that the drug flows properly through the lines and that staff know how to administer it.

The American Civil Liberties Union in a report last month claimed the state failed to use the drug in an October rehearsal, perhaps because of the dwindling supply.

Herndon said her appeal before Kansas City U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey questions whether the state can guarantee the drug will be administered properly if it wasn't used in the October rehearsal.

The other appeal before the Missouri Supreme Court alleges that the state violates its own laws by allowing prison staff to administer sodium thiopental, rather than a doctor, nurse or anesthesiologist. Cline said 10 units of sodium thiopental were used in the most recent execution rehearsal, on Jan. 23.

Link himself has shown little willingness to fight the death penalty. He attempted suicide by slashing his wrists in 2008, Herndon said. He has been on death row for 15 years.

Elissa Self disappeared while walking to her school bus stop in south St. Louis on Jan. 11, 1991. Her body was found four days later along the banks of the St. Francis River, some 135 miles south of St. Louis.

Later that month, police in suburban St. Louis saw a car with a headlight out and tried to pull it over. Link was the driver. He sped away and crashed. Inside the car, officers found petroleum jelly with flecks of blood.

Meanwhile, investigators took DNA evidence from Elissa's body. Link's DNA matched the DNA found on Elissa's body; Elissa's DNA matched the DNA in the blood found in the petroleum jelly jar. (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)