ST. LOUIS (CN) - Another Missouri execution has been put on hold, this time after a federal judge found concerns that the state's Department of Corrections interfered with the clemency process.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry issued the stay order for John E. Winfield on Thursday, June 12. Winfield was to be executed on Wednesday, June 18.
The Missouri attorney general responded by filing a motion to dismiss the stay.
Winfield sued prison officials
on June 3, claiming they were pressuring an employee not to support his clemency petition.
Winfield claimed that an employee, identified in Perry's stay order as Terry Cole - the laundry director at the Potosi Correctional Center where Winfield is incarcerated - had told Winfield's lawyers that he was a model prisoner and that he would write a letter supporting his clemency request.
Cole was then investigated by the Department of Corrections for over-familiarity with Winfield, after he clarified the DOC's clemency letter request policy with his supervisor, which states that employees can write letters on prisoners' behalf so long as it is clear they are not speaking for the DOC.
Winfield's attorney Jessica Sutton "came back to Cole's home on May 22, 2014, and provided him with a typewritten declaration that included the things Cole had told her before about Winfield," Judge Perry wrote. "Cole told Sutton that he was under investigation for over-familiarity and that he was concerned that signing the declaration could place his job in jeopardy. After more discussion, he agreed to sign the declaration because Sutton agreed to redact it and remove all information that could identify him as the person providing the declaration. He testified at the hearing that he was concerned about the public and his employer knowing his identity, because people have different views on these issues. The declaration Cole signed is very favorable to Winfield. It states, among other things, that although he did not disagree with the death penalty generally, he did not believe it was appropriate for Winfield. The declaration stated that Winfield is in the 'elite 1 percent of all inmates.' It described plaintiff as a compassionate and generous person who has the ability to mentor young inmates and change their lives. Cole stated that he had seen Winfield help other inmates, was a very good worker, and had the respect of prison staff and other inmates."
Later, Sutton approached Cole with an additional draft declaration to sign.
"This one included many of the same favorable statements about Winfield, but also included statements to the effect that Cole feared for his employment because immediately after telling people at the prison that he had spoken to Winfield's counsel he came under investigation for over-familiarity," Judge Perry wrote. "Cole did not sign this statement, and testified that he did not agree with the portion that said he was concerned for his job.
"On May 27, Sutton texted Cole and asked him if he had received the new declaration. His wife, on his behalf, then texted the following response from Cole's phone:
"'Jessica, after considerable debate and discussion with my wife, I have decided that I cannot sign the declaration at this time due to the current pending investigation. It is also my wish to rescind the redacted copy that I have already signed as well. Some concerns have arisen that Nancy and I have due to this current investigation, however, once I have received a final disposition of the unmerited investigation in which is an utterly ridiculous claim of over-familiarity, I will have no problem in signing either declaration. Sorry.'
"Cole did not talk to Sutton again."
Judge Perry was unmoved, despite the investigation concluding that the allegations against Cole were unfounded and the state's claims that it was started through the complaints by a fellow prisoner.
"I conclude that Winfield has shown that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his Due Process claim," Perry wrote. "The evidence presented to me shows that Winfield is likely to be able to prove at a later trial that prison officials took actions to intimidate Cole to keep him from providing support for Winfield's clemency petition. Obviously, Winfield's success on the merits is not without question. Cole denies being threatened, although his demeanor, and the recording of his interview with [Investigator Paul] Wilson, shows that he was intimidated and feared for his job. Cole also did not tell MDOC the truth when they began the investigation. But when all the evidence is considered, I conclude that Winfield has shown that at a trial on the merits he is likely to be able to prove that Cole, in fact, changed his decision because of the over-familiarity investigation. Although [Investigator James] Nicholson testified that it was just a coincidence that he performed his investigation the day after the department learned that Cole had been in contact with Winfield's lawyers, it is likely that a fact-finder would not believe that. There had been no investigation for several months after the inmate made his allegations against Cole, and then the flurry of activity began the day after Cole reported the contact with attorneys. The investigation ignored allegations of prisoner misconduct and focused only on the alleged over-familiarity issue. Both the department policy requiring staff members to report contact with inmates' attorneys and the requirement that employees may not discuss anything that is under investigation show, in this context, that the department discourages employees from supporting inmates seeking clemency. Although, unlike the Young
case, there is no evidence of any direct threats to Cole, there is substantial evidence that the department's actions caused Cole to fear that his employment would be negatively affected if he continued to support clemency. And there is substantial evidence that Cole was, in fact, deterred from supporting the request for clemency."
On Sept. 9, 1996, Winfield, of University City, went to his ex-girlfriend's apartment. He confronted his ex, Carmalita Donald, when she got home. He killed Donald's two roommates and shot Donald four times. Donald survived, but was blinded.
Winfield was convicted by a St. Louis County jury in 1998, which recommended two death sentences.
If the stay holds, it would be the second consecutive delay in Missouri executions in as many months. In May, Russell Bucklew was granted a stay after he successfully argued that his rare blood condition
could cause him cruel and unusual punishment during the lethal injection process.
Before Bucklew's stay, Missouri had put to death six prisoners in the previous six months, after switching from a three-drug mixture to pentobarbital. In each of those executions, Missouri successfully defended legal challenges seeking to find out the identity of the compounding pharmacy providing the execution drug.