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Death Penalty

Judge grants execution stay, cites possible intimidation of prison worker supporting clemency bid

Posted Jun 12, 2014 10:55 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal judge has issued a stay of execution for a Missouri inmate because of evidence suggesting that correctional officials tried to intimidate a prison laundry director who supported the inmate’s clemency request.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry stayed the execution of John Winfield, who was scheduled to die June 18. The judge’s order, issued today, is here and her opinion is here.

The laundry director, Terry Cole, initially told a lawyer for Winfield who visited his home that he was prepared to support the clemency petition, the opinion says. Following what appeared to be policy, he notified his supervisor about contact with the lawyer.

After the warden declared the attorney visit a serious matter, Cole provided a written statement about the visit and said he did not intend to write a letter, the evidence showed. Cole was told the next day that he was under investigation for “overfamiliarity” with Winfield.

Cole later signed a declaration under an agreement to remove identifying identification that said Winfield was in the “elite 1 percent of all inmates” and the death penalty was inappropriate in his case. Cole later sought to withdraw it, saying in a text written by his wife on his behalf that he will sign the declaration “once I have received a final disposition of the unmerited investigation in which is an utterly ridiculous claim over over-familiarity.” He was later cleared in the investigation.

One of Winfield’s lawyers, Joseph Luby, issued a statement praising Perry's decision. He said the judge correctly followed precedent requiring states that provide a clemency process to refrain from interfering with it by threatening the job of a witness.

“Here, the court correctly found that the state actors intimidated a prison staff member and made him fear for his job, and that such obstruction of the clemency process violated Mr. Winfield’s due process rights,” Luby said. “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. We urge Governor Nixon to commute Mr. Winfield’s death sentence to a sentence of life without parole.”

Winfield was convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of two women who were friends of his ex-girlfriend, according to this Mother Jones story on a juror who now regrets her death-penalty vote in his case.

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