News

EXECUTION ALERT

Help Save Mark Christeson

Execution Date: January 31, 2017

The Missouri Supreme Court has set a January 31 execution date for Mark Christeson, despite the existence of ongoing federal appeals related to his right to representation by competent and adequately funded counsel. Notions of fundamental fairness and the troubling history of his case call for a stay.

After a jury convicted Mark of three counts of capital murder when he was 18 years old, a federal district court appointed two attorneys to represent him in his federal habeas appeals. Attorneys from the MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis, observe that “of the various mechanisms intended to ensure reliability and fairness in imposition of the death penalty, federal habeas proceedings remain the last mainstay.” Nonetheless, such appeals must be filed within a strict one year timeframe. Despite this, his attorneys failed to meet with him until the deadline had passed. The Missouri Supreme Court then set Mark’s execution date for October 29, 2014. In a strongly worded intervention, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution and remanded the case to ensure that Mark received competent substitute appellate counsel. Christeson v. Roper, 574 U.S. ___ (2015).

The right to adequate legal representation is at the core of this case. Gov. Greitens has committed to this basic Constitutional right, noting “We need a justice system that does justice by all of our people. As a constitutional conservative, I believe, as you do, that the constitution applies to every citizen. I believe in the 6th Amendment, which guarantees the right to a fair trial and adequate legal representation for all.”

Post-conviction representation requires significant factual investigation, including mitigation research and the retention of experts in fields such as forensic psychology, medicine, neuroscience, intellectual disabilities and trauma. Mr. Christeson has an IQ of 74, making these kinds of experts critical. But the court granted counsel a mere 6% of the budget they requested, , thus preventing them from developing and presenting the necessary evidence to show that Mark lacked the cognitive ability to address the time bar created by his previous attorneys’ misconduct. The District Court’s order is currently on appeal before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mark’s case:

  • Places front and center the state’s willingness to proceed with a death sentence, despite pending federal appeals.
  • Calls into question the legitimacy of our system of capital punishment when an individual has been denied counsel, and yet still faces an imminent execution date.
  • Presents the possibility of executing an individual with intellectual disabilities and extensive childhood physical and sexual trauma
  • Asks our leaders to consider abandoning the costly use of the death penalty altogether, and move to a system where life without parole is the harshest sentence available. This would avoid the extensive litigation costs associated with capital punishment.

Finally, a stay would permit the fair litigation of issues related to adequate funding of a competent defense.

Actions Needed Immediately

  • Contact Governor Eric Greitens to urge that he stay Mark Christeson’s execution until the issues raised in the pending appeals can sufficiently be addressed. Call 573-751-3222; write a letter, mailing it to Rm 216, State Capitol, Jefferson City MO 65101/faxing it to 573-751-1495; e-mail via governor.mo.gov; tweet to @EricGreitens.
  • Contact Attorney General Josh Hawley to urge that he ensure justice by facilitating the stay. Call 573-751-3321; write: PO Box 899, Jefferson City MO 652101; e-mail general@ago.mo.gov; tweet to @HawleyMO
  • Contact your Missouri Senator and Representative to urge them to examine the costs of using our tax dollars for a system of punishment that is expensive and fundamentally broken. To find your legislator: http://www.senate.mo.gov/legislookup/default.aspx
  • Attend an execution watch or vigil January 31, 2017
    • For more information on vigils, please click here
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