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