Richard Strong’s execution date was executed on June 9, 2015, despite eloquent pleas for leniency from one of his victims and daughter. He was convicted in the homocides of his girlfriend, Eva Washington and her two-year old daughter Zandrea Thomas; his infant daughter was also at the crime scene and spared. His capital sentence arose as a result of the work of incompetent trial counsel, as well as behavior driven by mental illness and extreme childhood trauma. He has been diagnosed with Major (Recurrent) Depression, PTSD and Schizotypal Personality Disorder.
Horrific childhood trauma: Due to the incompetence of mitigation counsel, the trial jury never learned of Strong’s horrific childhood and history of mental illness. Richard Strong’s father abandoned him soon after conception and was incarcerated when he was born. Richard grew up “extremely poor, often not having anything to eat” and without basic necessities. His mother lived with a series of abusive boyfriends throughout his childhood, at 26 different places, most all were “derelict apartments in violent” St. Louis neighborhoods, many of them were rat and roach-infested often without electricity.
As a child, Strong experienced a turbulent environment where his mother gambled and sold herself to support the family. He also lived through a number of traumatic events. He saw a friend get shot in the back and found his best friend’s mother dead. He and his siblings were also forced to listen to their mother’s screams as she was being raped. He and brothers were frequently beaten by his mother’s many boyfriends. A babysitter sexually abused Strong when he was five, as did a stranger when he was 12.
Low intellectual functioning and mental illness: Richard had to repeat first grade. Because of his chaotic living arrangements, he would often miss school and only graduated from high school with a 1.8 GPA. An evaluation at the Potosi Correctional Center determined he has an IQ of 74, reads at a 3rd grade level and spells like a 2nd grader. Other mental health specialists determined he suffers from Major (Recurrent) Depression, PTSD and Schizotypal Personality Disorder among other conditions.
Woefully inadequate legal counsel: Richard’s trial lawyers were paid $15,000 to represent him, a fraction of the cost needed for a robust fight against the death penalty. In violation of the ABA standards for representation in death penalty cases, the attorney overseeing the sentencing phase of trial had just finished law school the previous year and had never tried a criminal case, much less a capital case. He had no experience with presenting a mitigation defense and only began interviewing relatives as the jury was being selected. He and the lead counsel chose to stress during the sentencing trial that Strong was “a good and loving person” with a “faith in God.” Jurors, and his own trial attorneys, had no clue about Mr. Strong’s brutal childhood and psychological issues. It was only when post-conviction attorneys did a thorough investigation that these issues came to light.
Another St. Louis County case. Mr. Strong is the 4th African-American man set for execution this year in cases coming from St. Louis County (fortunately two of those executions were stayed.) The county has been responsible for the 9th most executions of any US jurisdiction. Ten of the 32 current inmates living under a death sentence is Missouri were convicted by St. Louis County prosecutors.
CONTACT Gov. Jay Nixon. Urge him to commute all unfair death sentences. Call 573-751-3222; send a letter, by mail: Rm 216, State Capitol, Jefferson City MO 65101; fax: 573-751-1495 or e-mail: www.governor.mo.gov.
CONTACT Attorney General Chris Koster. Urge him to cease pushing for executions. Call 573-751-3321, write: PO Box 899, Jefferson City MO 652101 or e-mail www.ago.mo.gov.