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Nixon denies clemency for convicted killer

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon denied clemency late Tuesday for a man facing a midnight execution for kidnapping, raping and strangling a 17-year-old girl in 1989.

Nixon said he wouldn't halt the execution of 59-year-old Jeffrey Ferguson, though appeals were still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and a federal appeals court. Ferguson's attorneys are challenging, among other things, the state's refusal to disclose where it gets its execution drugs.

Ferguson is scheduled for lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre. It would mark Missouri's fifth execution since November.

Kelli Hall was kidnapped on Feb. 9, 1989, shortly before her shift ended at a Mobil gas station in St. Charles. Her frozen body was found 13 days later on a St. Louis County farm.

"Kelli Hall was only 17 when she was abducted from her workplace, raped and brutally murdered," Nixon, a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday evening. "Her life, so full of promise, was brutally taken from her and her family.

"The jury that convicted Jeffrey Ferguson of Kelli's murder found that the aggravating circumstances for this crime warranted the death penalty. My decision today upholds that appropriate sentence. "

Missouri switched to a one-drug execution method late last year. The state obtains the drug, pentobarbital, from a compounding pharmacy it refuses to name.

Ferguson's attorney, Jennifer Herndon, has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the execution, arguing that the state's secretive process prohibits the public from knowing exactly how the drug is made and whether it could cause pain and suffering for the inmate.

The drug was used in the state's four previous executions, and the inmates showed no outward signs of distress during the execution process.

A similar request for a stay, arguing that Ferguson wasn't given timely notice of the method being used for his execution, was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ferguson's supporters argue that he has turned his life around behind bars and has been a model prisoner who works with other inmates, helped start a hospice program and performed other good deeds.

Herndon said Ferguson was an alcoholic who blacked out on the night of the murder, but that he became devoutly religious once sent to death row.

Ferguson and a friend, Kenneth Ousley, were at a Shell service station in St. Charles on the night of the murder.

Hall, who worked at the Mobil station across the street, was nearing the end of her eight-hour work shift when she went outside to check the levels of four fuel tanks.

A witness said Ferguson's Chevrolet Blazer pulled up. The witness saw a man standing close to Hall with a hand in his pocket. Ferguson was carrying a pistol.

About a half-hour later, a co-worker went looking for Hall. When they found out she was not home and her purse was still at the station, they contacted police. Later, some of her clothing was found by a city worker in the St. Louis County town of Chesterfield.

On Feb. 22, Warren Stemme was approaching a machine shed on his farm in Maryland Heights, another St. Louis suburb, when he found Hall's frozen body, naked except for socks. She had been strangled.

An acquaintance suspicious about Ferguson led police to him, and he was convicted of first-degree murder. Ousley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1993; he is serving a life term but is eligible for parole.

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