Fifteen years after Susan Brouk and her two children were murdered at a pond, a short distance from their home in a rural area near Vichy, Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman expressed frustration that ongoing legal battles have prevented the state from executing the man sentenced to death for those crimes.
"I realize the court systems are backed up, and that appeals take a lot of time," Heitman said this week in a news release. "However, it's been 15 years since this heinous crime (was) committed, and five years since the Attorney General requested an execution date.
"It is frustrating when the state talks about needing to cut funds and they lay off employees, yet we have spent ... over $100,000 housing (Mark) Christeson, since the Attorney General requested his execution - (money) which the state could have saved if this court case was handled in a timely manner."
Mark Christeson was 18 when he and his cousin, Jessie Carter, then 17, killed the Brouks.
Carter testified against Christeson, pled guilty and was sentenced to three life prison terms, with no opportunity for parole.
(A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling would have erased the death penalty for Carter if he'd been given a death sentence, since he was under 18 at the time of the crime. And another ruling last year prohibiting automatic "life without parole" sentences for those under 18 may mean Carter's sentence could be modified.)
Christeson was convicted by a Vernon County jury, then sentenced in October 1999 to die by lethal injection.
Missouri law requires the state Supreme Court to review all death penalty cases - and, in June 2001, the court upheld the trial court's sentence on a 6-0 vote. That year the court also set a Nov. 30, 2001, execution date - but he still had legal appeals, and that date was set aside.
Heitman's news release noted then-Attorney General Jay Nixon asked the Supreme Court to set a new execution date for Christeson, in April 2008 - and Attorney General Chris Koster's staff renewed that request last May, noting it had been 1,491 days since the 2008 request.
A docket entry in Christeson's Supreme Court case file shows his attorneys opposed the Nixon request on May 2, 2008. And the court has made no decision since then.
But several Missouri death row inmates sued the state last year over the Corrections department's decision to modify the execution protocol.
Last August, the state Supreme Court issued identical orders in six cases that had been included in Koster's updated execution date request, saying: "The Court has received notice of (the) Zink v. Lombardi (lawsuit) ... which contests the execution protocol adopted by the department of corrections on May 15, 2012. The petition in that case raises issues (including) whether the newly adopted protocol violates the (federal) constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, particularly in light of the protocol's requirement that propofol be administered to cause the death of the offender."
Because of that lawsuit, the state Supreme Court said, "ruling on the motion(s) to set execution date(s) is premature."
Although Christeson's case wasn't included in those orders, his attorneys told the high court last August that he, also, is a party in the Zink lawsuit, which originally was filed in Cole County, but was refiled in the U.S. District Court on Aug. 1, 2012.
Nanci Gonder, Koster's spokeswoman, said Wednesday: "The attorney general's office will continue to do all we can to expedite the protocol-challenge cases. ... Currently the trial is set for October."
Heitman said in an e-mail that he had talked with Koster's office: "(They) told me that it was frustrating for them as well.
"I am not pushing blame on their office, and I think the Attorney General does a great job. However, I do feel that if it is the protocol that needs to be changed then something needs to happen fast.
"It is such a waste of taxpayers dollars to: house, feed, provide medical treatment etc. for inmates like these who commit such horrible crimes; because of protocol.
"Additionally, let's give the family the closure that they deserve. People have a right to a fair and speedy trial, and I feel the victims should have a right to fair and timely justice."