Missouri Supreme Court won't halt execution

ST. LOUIS | The attorney for Missouri death row inmate Martin Link filed last-minute appeals Tuesday in an effort to spare the life of a man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing an 11-year-old St. Louis girl.

Link, 47, was scheduled to die by injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at the prison in Bonne Terre for killing Elissa Self-Braun in 1991. The execution would be the first in Missouri in two years and just the second since 2006.

At midday Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court denied one appeal that questioned the legality of Missouri’s execution protocol.

Link’s attorney, Jennifer Herndon, argued the state does not use medical personnel to administer sodium thiopental, the anesthesia that renders the inmate unconscious before the next two drugs kill him. The appeal claimed the inmate could suffer tremendous pain if the anesthetic was not properly administered.

Herndon also had an appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that Gov. Jay Nixon should not decide on clemency because he was attorney general — the state’s top law official — when Link was convicted.

Nixon denied clemency in the case Monday. Just last month, the governor halted the execution of Richard Clay days before it was scheduled, though he didn’t say why.

Link himself showed 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. He declined interview requests.

The supply of sodium thiopental has dwindled across the country — some states with the death penalty are out of the drug. Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Cline said the state has a supply of 40 units of sodium thiopental, and it takes about 10 units to carry out an execution. Missouri’s supply of the anesthetic expires March 1. No other executions are scheduled before then.

Self-Braun disappeared in south St. Louis on Jan. 11, 1991. Her body was later found 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 Self-Braun’s body. Link’s DNA matched that DNA; and the girl’s DNA matched the DNA in the blood found in the petroleum jelly jar.

Dennis Skillicorn was put to death in May 2009 for his role in the slaying of a good Samaritan who had stopped on the road to help him. Otherwise, executions in Missouri largely have been on hold during the past five years while the courts debated the constitutionality of lethal injection. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June opened the way for many executions to resume.