JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Advocates sent a petition filled with thousands of signatures to Governor Mike Parson on Tuesday, asking him to stop the execution of a man convicted of killing two Missouri jailers more than 20 years ago.
Michael Tisius is now 42 years old, but back when he committed the crime in 2000, he was 19. Those who gathered at the Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty rally inside the Capitol say what Tisius did was wrong, and he should be held accountable, but the state should not be executing a man who was a child when he committed the murder.
“Should you be sentenced to the ultimate punishment before you become the age of maturity? It’s not right,” Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of the Missouri State Conference NAACP, said.
Next week, Tisius is slated to be the third person to die by lethal injection in Missouri this year. He was convicted of killing two Randolph County jailers in 2000 after entering the lobby of the central Missouri jail in Huntsville with Tracie Bulington in order to break out Bulington’s boyfriend, Roy Vance, who was an inmate. Police said Tisius shot and killed the two officers, but the plan failed because he couldn’t find the cell keys.
Tisius and Bulington were later arrested that day in Wathena, Kansas.
“In other states, he would not be on death row, but in Missouri, he is,” Chapel said. “This is manifest injustice. We all understand in youth we can act a way that is not in accord with societal standards, and that’s what happened here.”
Earlier this month, the American Bar Association (ABA) sent a letter to the governor asking him to substitute the execution for life in prison, saying the death penalty should not be used on individuals who committed a crime under the age of 21 because the brain is not fully developed.
“We urge you to exercise your authority under the Missouri Constitution to commute the sentence of Michael Tisius, who was only 19 years old at the time of the crime, to life without the possibility of release,” the letter said.
The letter also details physical abuse and neglect Tisius experienced during his childhood, which the ABA claims caused further delayed brain maturation. A handful of neurologists also found Tisius suffered from serious brain impairments that could lead to impulsive behavior or lapses in problem-solving.
“Every time we put someone to death, what we are saying to Missourians is that killing people you’re mad at is an appropriate response,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said to the crowd in the Capitol. “We could figure out a way that we could move forward without more killing because killing this man isn’t going to help anybody, it’s just not.”
After the rally in the rotunda, advocates walked to the governor’s office to drop off a petition with 3,500 signatures, asking Parson to halt the execution.
“It’s not a deterrent,” Chapel said. “Execution doesn’t do anything but normalize murder. It puts it right in the hands of the state, and I think that’s something we have to walk away from as a society.”
A spokeswoman for the governor said Tuesday that Parson’s legal counsel has met with Tisius’ attorneys to discuss the case and the next step is for the governor to be briefed on the meeting.
Tisius is set to be executed next Tuesday night at the state prison in Bonne Terre.