Eighth execution in Missouri in 2014 carried out by lethal injection

Earl Ringo Jr. was found guilty of murdering two people at a Columbia restaurant in 1998.
Seinga Macauley / Graphic Designer

A Missouri inmate convicted in a 1998 double homicide was executed by lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme Court and Gov. Jay Nixon denied pleas for clemency, according to a Sept. 9 news release from Nixon’s office.

Earl Ringo Jr. was found guilty and later confessed to the murders of Dennis Poyser and Joanna Baysinger at a Columbia restaurant. His accomplice, Quentin Jones, avoided the death penalty by testifying against Ringo. Jones is currently serving a life sentence, according to court documents.

Nixon received an organized petition from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requesting the postponement of Ringo’s execution, but he decided to let the sentence carry out as initially scheduled.

“The evidence that was presented at trial left no doubt about Ringo’s guilt,” Nixon said in the release. “My denial of clemency upholds the court’s decision to impose the death penalty for these two murders.”

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster was also in the public eye in relation to Ringo’s execution. He asked protesters to remember the severity of Ringo’s crime in a Sept. 10 public statement.

"It should not be lost in the national debate over the death penalty that Earl Ringo, Jr. was responsible for the murders of two innocent Missourians,” Koster said. “For 16 years he avoided payment for this crime. Tonight, he has paid the penalty."

Nixon and Koster are noted advocates of the death penalty. Since they both assuming their respective offices in 2009, they have overseen the execution of 12 death row inmates, including eight inmates in 2014 alone. No other state has put as many to death in such a short amount of time.

Missouri’s efficiency in this matter has drawn a significant amount of criticism from the anti-death penalty public.

Mary Ratliff, president of Missouri NAACP, says her organization has long been fighting for the abolition of the death penalty in Missouri. Ratliff wrote several letters to the governor’s office and attended the Vigil for Life protest outside Boone County Courthouse prior to Ringo’s execution on Sept. 10.

“We think that (the death penalty) is barbaric,” Ratliff said. “You don’t want to be known as the state with the highest number of executions per year.”

Entering the public conscious so soon after the death of Michael Brown and the protests in Ferguson, the execution of Ringo has received much public attention, Ratliff said.

Ratliff said she thinks the two events are connected in that they both shed light on what she perceives as institutionalized racism within Missouri’s legal system.

“There is a disparity in death sentencing for African-American folks,” Ratliff said. “You’re supposed to be judged by a jury of your peers. Certainly, the racial climate in this country does not lend itself to an African-American person receiving a fair trial. We are very disturbed about the fact that there was an all-white judge, jury and prosecutor.”

Ringo’s execution has also garnered attention as a result of the petition filed to Nixon as part of recent concern over the use of midazolam, a sedative that has been linked to botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona.

During a deposition in January 2014, Missouri Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi swore under oath that the state would not use midazolam in lethal injection executions due to its controversial nature. According to an investigative report conducted by St. Louis Public Radio, Missouri has since carried out seven executions using midazolam as a sedative.

Midazolam is a uniquely powerful sedative and, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website, is “used to produce sleepiness or drowsiness and relieve anxiety before surgery or certain procedures. It is given only by or under the immediate supervision of a doctor trained to use this medicine.”

Usually, medical doctors refuse to participate in lethal injection procedures because of the Hippocratic oath. The administration of the lethal drugs is normally left to an execution team comprised of prison employees.

As Missouri garners national attention for its continued use of midazolam, the attorney general’s office said the sedative is used as part of a “pre-execution” procedure and therefore cannot be considered part of the lethal injection execution itself.

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