Missouri executes man in 1991 slaying of girl

BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing an 11-year-old girl whose body was dumped along a river was put to death early Wednesday, the first execution in the state in nearly two years.

Martin Link, 47, died by injection at 12:15 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre. His fate was sealed when Gov. Jay Nixon denied a clemency request on Monday and several appeals failed to persuade the courts to intervene.

Attorney Jennifer Herndon’s efforts to spare Link’s life belied his own indifference. Link tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrist in 2008 and spent his last few years in prison in solitary confinement, Herndon said.

In a final statement read after the execution, Link said, “The state says killing is wrong. So why do they do it? For revenge. Where is the closure? There is none.”

The execution was the first in Missouri since May 2009 and just the second since early 2006.

Elissa Self-Braun disappeared on the morning of Jan. 11, 1991, while walking to catch a school bus to take her to a school for gifted children in St. Louis. Police and neighbors began a frantic search.

Four days later, the girl’s body was found amid debris on the banks of the St. Francis River, some 135 miles south of St. Louis.

Later that month, police in suburban St. Louis saw a car with a headlight out and tried to pull it over. Link was the driver. He sped away and crashed.

Inside the car, officers found petroleum jelly with flecks of blood. Meanwhile, investigators took DNA evidence from Elissa’s body. Link’s DNA matched that DNA; the girl’s DNA matched the DNA in the blood found in the petroleum jelly jar.

Elissa’s mother, Pamela Braun, was among those who witnessed the execution. Afterward, she read a statement thanking police, prosecutors and others who brought Link to justice.

“We have been truly blessed that the justice system has worked for Elissa, whereas there are still many homicide survivors and victims still waiting for justice,” Braun said.

Executions in Missouri and elsewhere were on hold for years as the courts decided whether lethal injection could violate the inmate’s constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June cleared the way for executions to resume.

Prison officials in many of the 35 states with the death penalty are struggling with a shortage of one of the three drugs used in executions, sodium thiopental, which is an anesthetic that renders the condemned inmate unconscious before the other drugs kill him.

Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Cline said Missouri had about 40 units of sodium thiopental in stock before Link’s execution, and it takes about 10 units for each execution. Missouri’s supply of sodium thiopental expires March 1. The state has no further executions scheduled before then.

Link’s execution comes about a month after Nixon stepped in to spare the life of another condemned man, Richard Clay, who was convicted in a southeast Missouri murder-for-hire plot. Days before Clay was scheduled to die, Nixon commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole, but refused to say why — though he said he remained convinced that Clay was guilty.

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