Missouri death row inmate Earl Forrest is presently scheduled to be executed on Wednesday. The prisoner was convicted of killing two people during an argument over drugs and a police officer in a succeeding gunfight.
Arguing that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, Kent Gipson, Forrest’s attorney, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution. However, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster contends the high court has previously decided that debate. Governor Jay Nixon is also reviewing a clemency request from the convicted killer.
In December 2002, Earl Forrest was drunk and went to Harriet Smith’s home in Salem, Missouri. He was willing to let the woman in on his source for methamphetamine, but only if she made good on a promise to buy him a lawnmower and a mobile home.
Michael Wells was with Smith when Forrest showed up. At some point, an argument erupted, and Forrest shot Wells right in the face.
He then turned the gun on Smith, shooting her six times. He also grabbed a box full of meth worth $25,000.
When police arrived at Smith’s home, Forrest was still there. A gun battle ensued, and Dent County Sheriff’s Deputies Sharron Joann Barnes and Bob Wolford were shot. Also wounded were Forrest’s girlfriend, Angela Gamblin, and Forrest himself. Barnes did not survive her injuries from the firefight.
Forrest never denied he killed Smith, Wells, or Deputy Barnes. However, defense attorneys contend the jury that gave him the death penalty never knew about the brain injury Forrest suffered before the murders.
“PET scans that were conducted showed that. That has really been the thrust of Mr. Forrest’s claim through post-conviction, was trial counsel’s failure to properly litigate that in the penalty phase of his trial,” said Lance Sandage, one of the prisoner’s lawyers.
The execution of Forrest may be one of Missouri’s last for quite some time. While the state once rivaled Texas in the number of executions, the death row population is declining. According to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, juries are less likely than ever to send a convict to execution.
Dunham believes jurors are putting greater weight on mental illness as a significant factor in violent crimes. Nationwide, only 49 people were sentenced to death in 2015. In Missouri, no one was given the death penalty in the last two years.
“As these executions take place, fewer and fewer people are being sentenced to death, so the death penalty is withering on the other end,” Dunham said.
Currently, Missouri has 25 other prisoners facing capital punishment, 17 of whom still have court appeals pending. Of the remaining, their executions are on hold for the time being.
Two inmates have been declared mentally unfit for the death sentence, while two others have medical conditions that would cause pain during lethal injection. Three others are going through case reviews to determine if there were trial errors.
One death row prisoner, William Boliek, was granted a stay of execution in 1997 by then-Governor Mel Carnahan. Three years later, the case was still under review when Carnahan was tragically killed in a plane crash.
According to a Missouri court, only Carnahan had the authority to overturn the stay of execution. Boliek will most likely never meet his date with execution, as Nixon’s office has said they are not interested in carrying out the punishment.
While executions worldwide are on the rise, the number of U.S. prisoners put to death is actually dwindling. Nearly 100 prisoners were executed in 1999, while only 28 were put to death in 2015, the lowest in two dozen years.
Earl Forrest, 66, will be the 19th death row inmate Missouri has executed in nearly three years and the first in 2016. Unless his sentence is commuted, the killer will be put to death sometime between 6 p.m. Wednesday and 5:59 p.m. Thursday at the state prison in Bonne Terre.
[Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images]