Missouri to Execute Brian Dorsey Despite Correctional Staff’s Extraordinary Support for Clemency

Updated 04.09.24


Missouri executed Brian Dorsey on Tuesday, April 9.

Gov. Mike Parson denied the requests of more than 150 people, including 72 corrections officials, a former Missouri Supreme Court judge, multiple jurors, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, faith leaders, and several relatives of the two victims, who called on him to Brian Dorsey’s death sentence to life in prison without parole. Mr. Dorsey is scheduled to be executed later today.

A group of 72 current and former correctional officers who know Mr. Dorsey personally asked the governor to grant clemency. “We are part of the law enforcement community who believe in law and order,” they wrote. “Generally, we believe in the use of capital punishment. But we are in agreement that the death penalty is not the appropriate punishment for Brian Dorsey.”

Mr. Dorsey has had no disciplinary infractions during his 17 years in prison, the letter said, and has lived in the honor dorm and worked as the staff barber—“a position of exceptional trust and respect”—for over a decade. “Every one of us believe that Brian is a good guy, someone who has stayed out of trouble, never gotten himself into any situations, and been respectful of us and of his fellow inmates,” the officers wrote. 

In an individual letter to the governor, former warden Troy Steele described Mr. Dorsey as a “model inmate.” 

“Mr. Dorsey has accepted what he did and taken accountability for his crime,” another officer wrote in an individual letter of support. “It is my impression that he has spent his time since then trying to do his best by being a role model to other inmates and providing a valuable service to staff.” 

“[W]hen you spend time around Brian like I have, you can just tell that he has changed,” one official wrote. “Some inmates never change, no matter how many years they are in. But that’s not Brian… The Brian I have known for years could not hurt anyone. The Brian I know does not deserve to be executed.”

Former officer Timothy Lancaster wrote in a letter to the Kansas City Star that from his “perspective after decades in corrections, I do not hesitate to say that executing Brian Dorsey would be a pointless cruelty.”

“This is truly extraordinary,” Michelle Smith, co-director of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, told St Louis Public Radio. “And it goes to the character of Mr Dorsey … They truly believe that Brian deserves clemency and [that] he is not someone who should be facing execution.”

Brian Dorsey (Jeremy Weis)

Retired state supreme court judge Michael Wolff, who joined the clemency request to the governor, wrote in an editorial for the Missouri Times that when the court upheld Mr. Dorsey’s conviction and death sentence in 2009, they were “unaware of how compromised his defense lawyers were.” 

Mr. Dorsey’s lawyers were paid a flat fee by the state public defender system, Judge Wolff wrote, a practice that the American Bar Association has condemned and that has been discontinued in Missouri. At $12,000 each, the Marshall Project calculated that they would have each earned $3.37 per hour if they done an average amount of work for a death penalty case.

But in Mr. Dorsey’s case, Judge Wolff wrote, “His lawyers did little to no investigation, including none of the basic preparations to determine whether he truly was eligible for the death penalty, before pleading him guilty—waiving trial—with the death penalty still on the table.”

If his lawyers had investigated, they would have discovered that Mr. Dorsey was experiencing a drug-induced psychosis at the time of the crime, the judge wrote. He had no history of violence and when treatment for the severe depression that plagued him for most of his life did not relieve his suffering, he turned to self-medication with alcohol and crack cocaine. 

This evidence would have made a difference to the jury, the judge wrote, pointing out that several jurors have said they would not have voted for the death penalty had they known it. Five of the jurors who sentenced Mr. Dorsey to death have urged Gov. Parson to grant clemency, with one writing, “[B]y the grace of God, I hope you will find your way to give him a life sentence instead of death.” 

Judge Wolff urged the governor to grant clemency because the Missouri Supreme Court erred when it upheld Mr. Dorsey’s death sentence.

“In the case of Brian Dorsey, I now believe this is the rare case where we got it wrong,” Judge Wolff wrote in his editorial. “I am so convinced of our error that I have asked Governor Parson to grant clemency to Mr Dorsey.”

If Mr Dorsey is executed on April 9, he added, “it will dishonor our system of justice.”

Missouri has executed 97 people since 1976, more than every other state except Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Florida. It was one of only five states to execute anyone in 2023, when it killed four people.

The governor, a former sheriff who has not blocked an execution since he took office in 2018, denied Mr. Dorsey’s clemency request yesterday, saying his execution will “provide closure.”