Clemency sought for changed man

Lawyers for Jeffrey Ferguson, who is scheduled to be executed next Wednesday, plan to file a clemency request this morning, arguing he should be spared because he has taken responsibility for his crime and devoted his life to service within the Potosi Correctional Center.

Jennifer Herndon, one of Ferguson’s attorneys, said the clemency request would include 12 to 15 supporting affidavits from people who have known Ferguson, attesting to his work in the prison’s hospice program, as a clerk for the prison’s chaplain and on panels for the victims of violent crimes.

“We are trying to get the governor to consider clemency not because (Ferguson) has stayed out of the way and hasn’t gotten in trouble, but because Potosi is definitely a better place because Jeff is there,” Herndon said. “There isn’t one person who disagrees with this, there isn’t one person who is like ‘you say he is a good guy, but I know this and this about him,’ because it isn’t there.”

Herndon said she thinks this is the strongest argument for clemency she has been involved in and also said there was staff at the prison that told her off the record they think he deserves a reprieve.

At an event organized at the Capitol on Thursday by the anti-death penalty group Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Herndon and others laid out the argument that Ferguson has served as a model inmate and his execution would be a significant loss to the prison community.

A childhood friend of Ferguson’s, Richard Hayes of the St. Louis-area, said Ferguson has atoned for his crime and become a new person in the more than 20 years he has served in prison.

“Jeff has made a conscience, serious and sustained effort to be the best citizen he can and has repeatedly stated how deeply sorry he is for the grief he has caused his victim’s family,” Hayes said. “There is more to Jeffrey Ferguson than the short bio below his prison picture.”

Ferguson was convicted of the 1989 abduction, rape and murder of 17-year-old Kelli Hall in St. Louis County. Ferguson has said he does not remember the crime, because he was drunk and on drugs the night it happened.

“For no good reason at all, I don’t know why I was involved, why I did it, but I did it and there was no excuse for that… it was the worst day of my life,” Ferguson said in a video clip shown at the Thursday event. “I got convicted and sentenced to death and hurt all the people I loved.”

Ferguson’s supporters hope his good behavior in prison and the testimony on his behalf will make for a more palatable clemency plea than those Gov. Jay Nixon has recently denied, which have focused more on inmates’ mental stability and the fairness of their punishments.

Dennis Schisler, who has volunteered at prisons since the 1990s, said Thursday was the first time he has publicly spoken on behalf of an inmate. “I have deep respect for Jeff, his low-key way of caring for people and how he prays for those who were injured by criminals and the criminals who face the death penalty,” he said.

Lawyers for Ferguson and other death row inmates are also pursing a federal appeal for a stay of execution that argues the secrecy of the source of Missouri’s lethal drugs makes it impossible for the condemned to know whether their execution will cause unnecessary pain, but the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has previously rejected those arguments.

If the execution moves forward, Ferguson will be the fifth person put to death by Missouri since it broke a nearly three-year execution hiatus in November.

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