John Winfield's only daughter was four years old when, in a jealous rage, he blinded her mother with a gunshot to the head. He shot and killed two other women on that September day in 1996.
Eighteen years later, Symone Winfield is asking the governor commute her father's execution to life in prison. John Winfield is presently scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 18 at 12:01 a.m.
"No one should be able to dictate whether this person lives or dies. He's a good person," says Symone, who believes her father has been rehabilitated by eighteen years behind bars.
Breaking update: A U.S. District judge has just stayed John Winfield's June 18 execution, citing concerns that Missouri Department of Corrections officials obstructed the clemency process. See below for more detail.
But Symone's mother, Carmelita Donald, doesn't share her daughter's perspective on clemency. Donald told an NBC reporter that's she's is looking forward to next week's execution, stating, "I want to be there."
In a clemency petition distributed yesterday by John Winfield's lawyers, Symone describes him as a loving and supportive father and grandfather.
"I know the gravity of this tragedy," she wrote in a sworn declaration submitted with the petition. "I love my mother dearly, and have a relationship with her as well. I know how this affected her and I am not excusing what happened."
But the prospect of her father's impending execution has haunted Symone for years. The 22-year-old mother of two says she visits him regularly, and she doesn't know if she could emotionally survive watching her father die. She writes:
"If my dad's sentence were commuted to life without parole, he would still be punished. He is confined to his cell and only sees his family in the visiting room where guards watch him play with his gandkids. He will never get out of prison...He is suffering, but if his sentence were commuted to life without parole, it would spare me the pain of knowing that on 12:01am June 18th, people will kill my dad. I would carry that loss forever."
However, John Winfield's only surviving victim, Carmelita Donald, wants to see him pay for the crimes that left her blind and two other women dead.
"To me, it's going to be a closure. It's been so long and I lost two friends," Donald told NBC.
Symone tells Daily RFT that she's involved in the lives of both her parents, and she doesn't want to lose either one. Her father's lawyers argue that he has become a model prisoner at the Potosi Correctional Center and a "unique example of the power of rehabilitation."
The clemency petition also includes letters from one of the original trial jurors, Kimberly Turner, who says prosecutors played on upon the racial biases of a nearly all-white jury to obtain the death sentence.
Attorney Joseph Luby told Daily RFT last week that he's trying to stop his client from becoming the next victim of Missouri's secretive execution process. Luby is attempting force the state to reveal the source of its execution drugs, but those efforts are stalled in court.
"If all we're doing is just executing one prisoner per month and then turning a blind eye to what the problems might be, that's not good government, that's not good politics and it's really not what the courts ought to be permitted either," Luby says.
As for Symone, she's aware that many will cheer her father's upcoming execution as fully deserved, considering the horrific nature of his crimes.
"Somebody imagine being in my shoes," she says. "Be put in my predicament, live my life, see what I go through or what I've been going though, to have this situation hinder me and my family for so long. I understand what happened was wrong, was not right at all, but at the end of the day it's always a higher power that someone has to answer to."
Update (continued): The injunction to stay the June 18 execution is a response to a lawsuit filed last week against Potosi Correctional Center warden Troy Steele, Eastern Reception Diagnostic & Correctional Center warden Terry Russell and MDOC director George Lombardi. The lawsuit alleges that prison officials threatened a Potosi staff member who planned on writing a letter of support for John Winfield's clemency petition. (You can read the full text of Winfield's lawsuit here.)
The federal injunction orders the MDOC officials and their agents to refrain "from obstructing, pressuring, discouraging, or otherwise threatening any correctional employees from providing statements in support of John E. Winfield's clemency efforts."
Continue to read the full text Symone Winfield's petition to commute her father's execution.
Here's Symone Winfield's letter, submitted yesterday as part of her father's clemency petition.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.