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Despite widespread support for clemency, Missouri will execute death row inmate

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Missouri plans to execute a man tonight who shot and killed two of his family members nearly 20 years ago. That's despite an unusual coalition advocating against his execution.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Brian Dorsey pleaded guilty to a crime that shocked the residents of New Bloomfield, a small city in the central part of Missouri. The victim's 4-year-old daughter was found at their home after the shooting. She was unharmed.

FADEL: St. Louis Public Radio's political correspondent, Jason Rosenbaum, has followed this case from its beginning and joins us now.

Hi, Jason.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Hello.

FADEL: So there's no question that Dorsey killed his cousin, Sarah Bonnie, and her husband, Benjamin Bonnie. So what is this group arguing? Is it a push against the death penalty itself?

ROSENBAUM: There are two main issues. The first is that Dorsey's attorneys were paid a flat fee of around $12,000 by the Missouri public defender's office, which his current lawyers say incentivized these other attorneys to do as little work as possible. And they point to how the original attorneys pushed him to plead guilty without trying to get the death penalty off the table.

FADEL: And the second legal issue?

ROSENBAUM: It's whether Dorsey was in a drug-induced psychosis when he committed the murders. And if he was, his attorneys argue he wouldn't fit the confines of first-degree murder and therefore isn't eligible for the death penalty.

FADEL: So tell us about this group that's trying to get his sentence commuted to life without parole. Who were they? What were their arguments?

ROSENBAUM: A former Missouri Supreme Court judge, some corrections officials who oversaw Dorsey in prison and several GOP lawmakers opposed to the death penalty are trying to stop his execution. And they say that Dorsey was a model prisoner and even was trusted enough to cut some corrections officers' hair. And this dovetails with the argument that he's rehabilitated and just doesn't deserve the death penalty. And they wanted his sentence commuted to life without parole.

FADEL: So knowing Dorsey did, in fact, kill these people, I imagine this entire debate might be painful for Sarah and Benjamin Bonnie's family members.

ROSENBAUM: Oh, absolutely. And some of their family members have found the arguments about his rehabilitation deeply off-putting and have argued no amount of good behavior in prison can erase the wave of trauma Dorsey inflicted. And State Representative Tony Lovasco, a Republican who wanted the governor to commute Dorsey's sentence, says he understands why those arguments wouldn't resonate with people who knew and loved the Bonnies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TONY LOVASCO: They don't probably care all that much about someone's rehabilitation because they're still hurting. I understand that completely. I don't minimize that. But I think it's important that we focus on the technical aspects of the case and the criminal justice system and really how this fits into public policy at large.

FADEL: But Dorsey is set to be executed tonight, right? So these arguments haven't worked?

ROSENBAUM: No. And the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously rejected an attempt to stop Dorsey's execution, pointing out how some of his actions during the murders, including loading and reloading a shotgun and stealing some of the Bonnie's belongings, showcased intent.

FADEL: And what about Missouri's governor, Mike Parson? Where did he land on this? Did the group want him to intervene?

ROSENBAUM: Yes. He's a Republican with an extensive law enforcement background, but he denied pleas to commute Dorsey's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He said in a statement the pain Dorsey brought to others can never be rectified, and carrying out Dorsey's sentence according to Missouri law and the court's orders will deliver justice and provide closure. So Dorsey is set to be executed in Bonne Terre tonight at 6 p.m., and the death penalty remains an option in Missouri for the foreseeable future.

FADEL: St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum. Thank you, Jason.

ROSENBAUM: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBOHANDS' "ODYSEA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.