Missouri executes Cecil Clayton, killer who had brain injury

Cecil Clayton, who suffered a brain injury, is executed Missouri for the killing of a deputy

Missouri executed its oldest death row inmate Tuesday, less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay his execution.

Cecil Clayton, 74, was executed by lethal injection beginning at 9:13 p.m. at a prison in Bonne Terre, according to a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections. He was pronounced dead at 9:21 p.m.

Clayton's fate had played out in an 11th-hour legal showdown that included questions over his mental state and stretched hours past his scheduled execution time.

Clayton was convicted in the 1996 shooting death of Sheriff's Deputy Chris Castetter near Cassville, Mo., a rural town about 200 miles south of Kansas City, according to court documents.

His attorneys contended that he was unfit to be executed because of a brain disorder. On Tuesday, they filed a brief claiming the Missouri Supreme Court made an error in finding him competent to be executed and asking the U.S. Supreme Court to delay Clayton’s execution while his case played out in court.

In a statement, Missouri Atty. Gen. Chris Koster said: "I share the outrage of every Missourian at the murder of [a] law enforcement officer, Deputy Christopher Castetter. Cecil Clayton tonight has paid the ultimate price for his terrible crime.”

Clayton's lawyers had said that in the 1970s he suffered a sawmill accident in which he lost 20% of his frontal lobe, resulting in mental instability. He did not understand the shooting and the death of Castetter, his attorneys argued in last-minute court filings.

Physicians are cited in court papers as saying Clayton suffered from a "delusional disorder." The filings also cited comments from fellow prisoners that Clayton had trouble doing such basic tasks as using a telephone and purchasing supplies from the prison commissary.

Over the weekend, the state's Supreme Court declined to intervene in the execution. A last-minute appeal from his attorney Elizabeth Unger Carlyle to the U.S. Supreme Court asked for the execution to be halted. 

Clayton’s brain injury, his attorneys have argued, had “severely impaired his cognitive functioning, ability to adapt to daily life, and to meaningfully and rationally understand that the state is going to kill him.”

"If we're going to execute anyone, we should execute the worst of the worst," Carlyle told the Los Angeles Times before the execution. "This man [Clayton] has a hole in his brain; he suffers from dementia.... He's not the type of person who should be executed."

Koster filed a response to Carlyle’s brief Tuesday, saying that pending litigation “does not entitle a condemned inmate to a stay as a matter of course.” 

Court documents also indicate that Clayton’s attorneys had objected to Missouri’s lethal injection protocol, which employs pentobarbital and offers a condemned inmate a pre-execution sedative, such as Midazolam, if one chooses to take it. Midazolam is part of Oklahoma’s three-drug cocktail used for executions, which has become the subject of controversy in recent months.

Koster objected to the comparison with Oklahoma’s protocol, saying that pentobarbital is “fast-acting” and that Missouri has used it to carry out 13 “rapid and painless” executions since November 2013.

According to trial testimony, after the shooting Clayton went to a friend's house, took out a pistol and said, "Would you believe me if I told you that I shot a policeman. Would you believe me?" Clayton told his friend he needed him to provide an alibi, according to testimony. 

“Cecil Clayton shot a police officer, who had responded to a domestic dispute involving Clayton, point blank in the head, killing him, as the officer sat in his vehicle with his weapon holstered,” Koster wrote in court documents submitted over the weekend. “Clayton asked a friend if he should shoot two other officers who came to the aid of the first … but the friend said no, so Clayton did not shoot them.”

This year Missouri has executed one other inmate, Walter Storey, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Missouri officials have drawn criticism for executing three inmates before their final appeals had been exhausted.

Herbert Smulls was executed last year before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its final decision on his application for a stay. The two prisoners executed before Smulls also had pending appeals, and two federal judges admonished the state for carrying out executions before the courts had fully vetted their cases.

Clayton had been scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. local time. The Supreme Court issued its decision around 8:30 p.m.

During a news briefing after Clayton's execution, Castetter's brother said that there was "no doubt in my mind" that Clayton knew what he had done.

"We know this execution isn't going to bring Chris back," said James Castetter, "but it destroys an evil person that would otherwise be walking this Earth."

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon paid tribute to the fallen officer. "Our state is safer because there are brave officers, like Deputy Castetter, who are willing to sacrifice their own safety for that of others," he said in a statement read by George A. Lombardi, director of the state Department of Corrections. "As the sentence of his murderer was carried out this evening, I ask Missourians tonight to honor Deputy Castetter, who gave his life in service to our state."

Clayton's last words before he was executed were, "They brought me up here to execute me." His last meal was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans and a cola. He did not receive any sedatives.

Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were in favor of granting a stay of execution but were outvoted.

Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

8:35 p.m.: This story has been updated with comments from Castetter's brother and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

7:39 p.m.: This story has been updated with Clayton's execution.

6:47 p.m.: This story has been updated with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.

5:18 p.m.: The story has been updated to include additional legal arguments from Clayton's attorneys and the state of Missouri, and additional background about executions in Missouri.

The story was originally published at 11:23 a.m.

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