The state of Missouri has executed its oldest death row inmatefor the 1996 shooting of a sheriff's deputy after the U.S. Supreme Court and the governor declined to spare the man whose attorneys said he had a diminished mental capacity because of a sawmill accident decades ago.
Cecil Clayton was put to death by lethal injection after Gov. Jay Nixon denied a clemency request and the Supreme Court turned aside appeals claiming Clayton was mentally incompetent. The Missouri Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, already had declined to intervene, with the court's majority concluding last weekend there was no evidence Clayton — despite his brain injury — wasn't capable of understanding his circumstances. The U.S. Supreme Court was also divided, with four judges saying they would have granted a stay.
Mike O'Connell, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said in a statement that Clayton was executed at 9:13 p.m. and pronounced dead at 9:21 p.m.
O'Connell said Clayton was not offered a sedative, honoring a request by Clayton's attorneys.
Clayton "was cooperative" when escorted to the execution chamber and was strapped to the gurney, O'Connell said.
In his final statement before the injection began, Clayton said only, "They brought me up here to execute me."
As the execution began, Clayton appeared to breathe heavily for about a minute, and the sheet over his right leg quivered slightly. His mouth slowly went agape, but there was no other movement before he was pronounced dead eight minutes later.
Clayton is the second inmate to be executed in Missouri this year and the 10th in the country.
Clayton’s lawyers argued in last-minute appeals that the 74-year-old had dementia and lingering effects from a 1972 sawmill accident that forced surgeons to remove about 8 percent of his brain, including one-fifth of the frontal lobe portion governing impulse control and judgment.
Clayton's attorneys argued that his intelligence dropped precipitously after the accident. He also suffered from hallucinations and delusions due to the injury, his attorneys said in court papers.
At trial, attorneys for Clayton argued that the accident left him incapable of deliberating or forming the intent necessary for a finding of first-degree murder.
Clayton's attorneys sought a competency hearing, arguing their client — convicted of gunning down Barry County sheriff's deputy Christopher Castetter — wasn't mentally fit to be put to death.
Police were called in November 1996 on a complaint that Clayton, who had been arguing with his girlfriend, was trespassing. He shot Castetter in the head while the officer was in his patrol car.
Clayton’s lawyers on six occasions asked the Missouri Supreme Court for a full review of their client’s mental condition, but were denied each time, with the court saying Clayton did not meet the criteria to prompt a hearing, the Guardian reported.
Combined with his reported IQ of 71 and reading skills of a fourth-grader, Clayton's attorneys insisted psychiatric evaluations over the past decade concluded that the inmate didn't understand the significance of his scheduled execution or the reasons for it, making him ineligible to be put to death under state and federal law.
"Cecil Clayton had — literally — a hole in his head," said Elizabeth Unger Carlyle, one of his attorneys. "Executing him without a hearing to determine his competency violated the Constitution, Missouri law, and basic human dignity. ... The world will not be a safer place because Mr. Clayton has been executed."
Al Jazeera and wire services