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Brian Dorsey is set to be Missouri’s first 2024 execution. A former judge wants to stop it

Seventeen years have passed since Brian Dorsey was sent to death row at Potosi State Prison. In that time, he’s had zero infractions and served as a barber.
Courtesy of Megan Crane
Seventeen years have passed since Brian Dorsey was sent to death row at Potosi State Prison. In that time, he’s had zero infractions and served as a barber.

More than 150 people have called for Gov. Mike Parson to grant Brian Dorsey clemency — including corrections officers, Republican state representatives, jurors, and the Missouri Supreme Court judge who upheld Dorsey’s conviction and death sentence in 2009.

Retired Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff wishes he had more information when he and his colleagues upheld Brian Dorsey’s conviction and death sentence in 2009.

The facts of the case aren’t in dispute. Dorsey shot and killed his cousin Sarah Bonnie and her husband, Ben Bonnie. But it was Dorsey’s legal defense that’s drawn renewed criticism — and advocates for clemency.

“When my colleagues and I upheld his conviction and death sentence in 2009, we were unaware of how compromised his defense lawyers were,” Wolff wrote in an editorial for the Missouri Times. “If Mr. Dorsey is executed … it will dishonor our system of justice.”

Unless a court halts the injection or Gov. Mike Parson steps in, Dorsey will be executed on April 9. Wolff has joined more than 150 others — including corrections officers, Republican state representatives and several of the jurors who were part of the sentencing phase — in asking the governor to support the commutation of Dorsey’s sentence to life without parole.

Along with Wolff, Dorsey has gained an ally in Michelle Smith, co-director of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty. The group is circulating a petition for clemency; it argues that killing Dorsey “does nothing to promote public safety and only serves to create further harm.”

Smith said the flood of support for Dorsey’s clemency from corrections officers is significant.

“This is something that is unprecedented because [the officers] also are putting themselves on the line with signing this letter,” she said. “This is truly extraordinary. And it goes to the character of Mr. Dorsey. …They truly believe that Brian deserves clemency and [that] he is not someone who should be facing execution.”

Michelle Smith and retired Judge Michael Wolff joined St. Louis on the Air to share why they are advocating for Dorsey’s clemency and to reflect on the factors that affect outcomes in death penalty cases. Listen to the conversation on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or by clicking the play button below.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Emily Woodbury
Danny Wicentowski