Opinion: Is Missouri about to execute an innocent man?

John Middleton
Recent evidence raises doubts about the guilt of convicted murderer John Middleton, who faces execution in Missouri.
(Associated Press)

Missouri is in the process of trying to execute a man despite recent doubts over the reliability of a key piece of evidence under which he was convicted.

Why the rush?

The condemned man is John Middleton, convicted in the murders of three suspected police informants in 1995. The problem is, during the investigation and trial, the date for when a key piece of evidence — an insect larva — was collected from the body of one of the three victims was off by a day.

So what? So once that date was corrected, post conviction, the date of the murder changed and now establishes significant doubt that Middleton was responsible. At the corrected time of the killing, he was in jail elsewhere in Missouri on unrelated charges.


Middleton’s supporters argue that the evidence against him in the other two killings was circumstantial, with no DNA or other physical linking him to the scene. Add in a new affidavit from a witness that implicates two other drug dealers in all three killings, and there is more than reasonable doubt.

Yet the state of Missouri is pressing hard to execute Middleton anyway. The execution was scheduled for just after midnight local time Wednesday, and during the day the legal filings are flying. By late morning a temporary stay had been lifted, but a fresh appeal was filed. The death warrant is good for 24 hours, so if Missouri doesn’t execute Middleton by midnight, the state Supreme Court will have to set a new execution date.

Missouri shouldn’t wait on the court, where what is morally right is not always found to be the winning legal decision. If the new evidence is refuted, the state can always kill Middleton later. If the new evidence is validated, there is no corrective for an execution.

This needs a full airing. Capital punishment indicts us as a society; to kill someone without considering all possible exculpatory information is a miscarriage of justice. It’s bad enough for the state to kill the convicted. It’s indefensible to move when there’s a recognizable risk of killing the innocent.


Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle

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