Missouri to reduce risk of suffering if man requires surgical procedure at execution

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Missouri Department of Corrections is taking measures to reduce Brian Dorsey ‘s risk of suffering during his execution scheduled for Tuesday, according to a settlement reached between the state and Dorsey’s attorneys.

The settlement filed Saturday ends a federal lawsuit that said Dorsey could face tremendous pain if required to undergo what’s known as a cutdown procedure to find a suitable vein for injection of the lethal dose of pentobarbital. Dorsey, 52, is awaiting execution for killing his cousin and her husband in 2006.

Dorsey is described as obese, has diabetes and is a former intravenous drug user — all factors that could make it more difficult to find a vein for injection, his lawyers have said. A cutdown procedure involves an incision that could be several inches wide, then the use of forceps to pull apart tissue to get to a vein.

Missouri’s execution protocol includes no provision for anesthetics. Attorneys for Dorsey had argued that without a local anesthetic, Dorsey could be in so much pain that it would impede his right to religious freedom in his final moments by preventing him from having meaningful interaction with his spiritual adviser, including the administration of last rites.

The settlement doesn’t spell out the specific changes agreed to by the state, or if anesthetics would be used if a cutdown procedure is necessary. A spokeswoman for the corrections department declined comment on Monday. A message was left with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

Arin Brenner, an attorney for Dorsey, said the settlement isn’t public and declined to discuss specific details.

“We received sufficient assurances that adequate pain relief will be provided,” Brenner said in an email on Monday.

Dorsey, formerly of Jefferson City, was convicted of killing Sarah and Ben Bonnie on Dec. 23, 2006, at their home near New Bloomfield. Prosecutors said that earlier that day, Dorsey called Sarah Bonnie seeking to borrow money to pay two drug dealers who were at his apartment.

Dorsey went to the Bonnies’ home that night. After they went to bed, Dorsey took a shotgun from the garage and killed both of them before sexually assaulting Sarah Bonnie’s body, prosecutors said.

Sarah Bonnie’s parents found the bodies the next day. The couple’s 4-year-old daughter was unhurt.

Attorneys for Dorsey said he suffered from drug-induced psychosis at the time of the killings. In prison, he’s gotten clean, they said, and a clemency petition before Republican Gov. Mike Parson focuses on Dorsey’s virtually spotless record of good behavior.

Among those urging Parson to commute Dorsey’s sentence to life in prison are 72 current and former state correctional officers. “The Brian I have known for years could not hurt anyone,” one officer wrote. “The Brian I know does not deserve to be executed.”

Dorsey’s rehabilitation also is at the heart of a petition filed Sunday with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court centers on the $12,000 flat fee paid to Dorsey’s court-appointed trial attorneys. It argues that with the flat fee, the lawyers had a financial incentive to resolve the case quickly. They encouraged Dorsey to plead guilty, but with no demand that prosecutors agree to life in prison instead of the death penalty.

In a letter to Parson as part of the clemency petition, former Missouri Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff wrote that he was on the court when it turned aside an appeal of his death sentence in 2009. Now, he says, that decision was wrong.

“Missouri Public Defenders now do not use the flat fee for defense in recognition of the professional standard that such an arrangement gives the attorney an inherent financial conflict of interest,” Wolff wrote.

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