Brian Dorsey, 51, is set to be executed in April in the 2006 killing of his cousin, Sarah Bonnie, and her husband, Ben Bonnie. Sixty corrections officers and staffers are arguing for his life.
Sixty Missouri Department of Corrections officers and staffers are urging the state’s governor to stop the execution of a “model inmate” convicted of killing his cousin and her husband.
Brian Dorsey, 51, is set to be executed in April in the 2006 killing of his cousin, Sarah Bonnie, and her husband, Ben Bonnie. He has been held in the Potosi Correctional Center for most of his sentence.
The Kansas City Star reports that 60 former and current Missouri Department of Corrections officers and prison staffers wrote a letter asking Republican Gov. Mike Parson to grant Dorsey clemency.
“We are part of the law enforcement community who believe in law and order,” the group wrote in the letter. “Generally, we believe in the use of capital punishment. But we are in agreement that the death penalty is not the appropriate punishment for Brian Dorsey.”
Brian Dorsey lives in ‘honor dorm,’ works as prison barber
The letter says that Dorsey stays out of trouble and is respectful toward officers and inmates. It also says that Dorsey is housed in an “honor dorm,” given to prisoners with good conduct.
Dorsey, who was allowed to be a barber, cut the hair of prisoners and officers, including the former warden of Potosi, Troy Steele, who called Dorsey a “model inmate”
“Offender Dorsey has been able to conduct himself in this environment in exceptional fashion having exhibited no behavioral issues while under the scrutiny of the correctional staff and the harassment of other offenders,” Steele said in a report.
USA TODAY has contacted Parson’s office for comment.
Brian Dorsey’s family weighs in
Jenni Gerhauser, a cousin of both Dorsey’s and victim Sarah Bonnie, joined the 60 corrections staff members in speaking out against his execution.
“It’s a unique experience because you are on both sides of this story,” Gerhauser told the Star. “You’ve got a vested interest on both sides. There’s no winners in something like this, there’s not.”
She said the execution would affect more than just Dorsey.
“You’re punishing more than just the person you’re executing and that’s cruel and unusual in my opinion.” she told the Star.
Dorsey and Gerhauser were born three weeks apart. The two grew up together, and spent birthdays, holidays and summers with one another.
Gerhauser told the publication that she feels helpless.
“We’re very much living in the middle of eye-for-an-eye country. But I wish people would understand it’s not that black and white,” she said, adding that her cousin’s defense at trial was a “joke.”
What do Brian Dorsey’s attorneys say?
Megan Crane, an attorney for Dorsey, filed an 80-page petition at the end of December, saying that her client was denied the constitutional right to effective representation.
“Dorsey was experiencing drug psychosis the night of the crime and thus incapable of deliberation – the requisite intent for capital murder,” the petition says.
His team is made up of federal public defenders who took on the case pro-bono, Erin Brenner, an attorney with his defense team, told USA Today.
Dorsey’s attorneys at trial were paid a flat fee to represent him in his original case, which is problematic, Brenner said.
“No matter how much work they did or didn’t do, they still get the same amount of money,” said Brenner. “So they convinced Brian to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t remember and neurologically could not have committed in exchange for nothing.”
The petition says the flat-fee structure under which Dorsey’s attorneys were hired caused a clear conflict that “adversely affected” Dorsey’s case.
Governor denies clemency
Parson has denied every request for clemency since he’s been in office, according to the Star.
But Brenner says two things set Dorsey’s case apart from the others.
“One, is the complete lack of due process and Sixth Amendment protections that Brian received,” she said. “He didn’t have effective counsel. He didn’t get his basic constitutional rights.”
Brenner told USA Today that his attorneys chose to skip the guilt phase of a trial when a jury decides if a person is guilty, according to the Office of Victims’ Services.
“He missed the most important phase of any defendant’s trial,” said Brenner.
The second reason Brenner believes sets Dorsey’s case apartment is that “he has been extraordinary as an inmate.”
“There is this sense that if he isn’t given clemency, then why should prisoners make better choices and choose to behave in prison if everyone just gets executed at the end?” Brenner states.
When is Brian Dorsey’s execution scheduled?
Dorsey’s execution date was set for 6 p.m. on April 9 by the Missouri Supreme Court, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune, part of the USA TODAY Network.
“As Attorney General, I want to enforce the laws as written, which includes carrying out the lawful sentence that has been upheld by multiple courts, including the nation’s highest court,” said Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey in a statement. “My office is committed to obtaining justice for victims of heinous crimes, and we will use every tool at our disposal to make Missouri the safest state in the nation.”
What happened in 2006?
Dorsey was in debt to his drug dealers when, on the night of Dec. 23, 2006, he was with his cousin Sarah Bonnie and her husband, Ben, drinking and playing billiards in New Bloomfield, a city about 13 miles north of Jefferson City, the Daily Tribune reported.
After other friends left, Dorsey killed his cousin and her husband with a shotgun. Dorsey also left with cash, his cousin’s car and other property to pay off his debts.
Sarah Bonnie’s mother found their remains on Christmas Day in 2006. Dorsey turned himself in to authorities the next day.
The couple were survived by a daughter.
Contributing: Charles Dunlap, Columbia Daily Tribune