Update: For the sixth time this year, Governor Jay Nixon has declined to grant clemency to a death-row inmate. John Middleton, a former meth dealer convicted of three grisly murders in 1995, was injected with a dose of pentobarbital at 6:58 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 7:06 p.m.
Middleton had spent nearly two decades in prison since his conviction in 1997. He was 54 years old.
Last night, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Perry halted Middleton's execution less than two hours before the 12:01 a.m. deadline, arguing that his mental-health issues "[have] made a significant threshold showing he is incompetent to be executed," and that he should be granted a legal hearing to evaluate his sanity.
In an affidavit, a psychologist who examined Middleton stated he "lacks a rational understanding of the reason for the execution and is therefore not competent to be executed due to a diagnosis of delusional disorder, a psychotic mental illness."
However, Middleton's questionable mental health did not sway the Missouri Supreme Court, the federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court -- all of which struck down multiple appeals in the final hours before the execution.
"Twenty years ago, John Middleton murdered three people out of fear they would expose him as the drug dealer he was," wrote Attorney General Chris Koster in a statement announcing Middleton's death. "This evening, Mr. Middleton paid the ultimate price for his choices."
Middleton was a small-time meth dealer and user in the mid-nineties. In 1995 the Missouri Highway Patrol began orchestrating busts against his fellow drug dealers, and Middleton decided to take proactive measures to silence informants.
He was sentenced to death in 1997 for the killings of three people he supposedly thought were going to rat him out to the police. His lawyers contend that two other meth dealers actually committed the murders and that prosecutors and law enforcement ignored evidence that would have exonerated Middleton.
Middleton's lawyers also argue that a botched handling of the autopsy records caused a scientist to miscalculate the time of death for one of the murder victims. The scientist -- a University of Missouri entomologist -- later revised his estimate of the time of death, placing the murder on a day when Middleton was cooling his heels in an Iowa jail cell 40 miles away.
For additional background on the case -- including how a Harrison County sheriff briefly reopened the nearly twenty-year-old investigation -- check out Daily RFT's previous coverage.