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Missouri executes Brian Dorsey for 2006 double murder after mercy bid backed by 72 correctional officers

<i>Jeremy Weis via CNN Newsource</i><br/>
Jeremy Weis via CNN Newsource

By Dakin Andone, CNN

(CNN) — The state of Missouri on Tuesday executed Brian Dorsey for the 2006 murders of his cousin, Sarah Bonnie, and her husband, Benjamin Bonnie, after an effort to have his life spared failed in recent days.

Dorsey’s time of death was recorded as 6:11 p.m, the Missouri Department of Corrections said in a news release. The method of execution was lethal injection, Karen Pojmann, a spokesperson for the department, said at a news conference, adding it “went smoothly, no problems.”

The execution of Dorsey, 52, occurred hours after the US Supreme Court declined to intervene and about a day after Missouri’s Republican governor denied clemency, rejecting the inmate’s petition – backed by more than 70 correctional officers and others – for a commutation of his sentence to life in prison.

Dorsey and his attorneys cited his remorse, his rehabilitation while behind bars and his representation at trial by attorneys who allegedly had a “financial conflict of interest” as reasons he should not be put to death. But those arguments were insufficient to convince Gov. Mike Parson, who said in a statement carrying out Dorsey’s sentence “would deliver justice and provide closure.”

In a final written statement before his execution, Dorsey thanked supporters who advocated on his behalf and apologized to the loved ones of his victims.

“To all of the family and loved ones I share with Sarah and to all of the surviving family and loved ones of Ben, I am totally, deeply, overwhelmingly sorry. Words cannot hold the just weight of my guilt and shame,” Dorsey said, according to the statement provided to CNN by his attorneys. “I still love you. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I am sorry I hurt them and you.”

“To my family, friends, and all of those that tried to prevent this, I love you! I am grateful for you,” he said. “I have peace in my heart in large part because of you and I thank you. To all those on ALL sides of this sentence, I carry no ill will or anger, only acceptance and understanding.”

While Dorsey’s petition also cited support from some relatives who his attorneys said were also related to the victims, other members of the victims’ families supported the execution, telling CNN in a statement Dorsey committed the “ultimate betrayal” when he killed Sarah Bonnie, his cousin, and her husband Benjamin and left their daughter Jade, then 4 years old, in the home with her parents’ bodies locked in their bedroom.

“Not only did Jade lose her parents but we also lost a daughter and son, sister and brother, aunt and uncle, and a great aunt and great uncle to so many,” the statement from Sarah Bonnie’s family read, in part.

“They were loved so deeply by anyone that knew them,” it said. “All of these years of pain and suffering we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Brian will get the justice that Sarah and Ben have deserved for so long.”

In his statement Monday, the governor said the “pain Dorsey brought to others can never be rectified,” and Dorsey’s execution would proceed according to state law and as ordered by the Missouri Supreme Court.

“Brian Dorsey punished his loving family for helping him in a time of need,” Parson said. “His cousins invited him into their home where he was surrounded by family and friends, then gave him a place to stay. Dorsey repaid them with cruelty, inhumane violence, and murder.”

Victim’s family sees ‘light at the end of the tunnel’

The murders occurred the night of December 23, 2006. Hours earlier, Dorsey called Sarah asking for help, according to a history of the case included with a ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court last month. Two drug dealers were in his apartment, Dorsey said, and he needed money to pay them.

The couple went to Dorsey’s apartment and the drug dealers left. They then took Dorsey back to their home, the ruling notes, and Dorsey spent the evening drinking and playing pool with their family and friends.

Later that night, the ruling said, Dorsey entered their room and fatally shot them with a shotgun at close range. Court records said Dorsey raped Sarah’s body. Dorsey’s attorneys argued this remains an allegation; he was never charged with and never pleaded guilty to rape or sexual assault.

Dorsey was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and pleaded guilty in March 2008. He was sentenced to death for each murder, court records show, and his conviction and death sentence were upheld on appeal.

The killings were deeply traumatic for Sarah Bonnie’s family, according to their statement, noting the bodies were discovered by her parents. In the years after, the family did what they could to keep the memories of Sarah and Ben alive, taking their daughter to the cemetery each year to release balloons.

“We think of all the things that she has missed out on during her life without her parents. First day of school, school parties, school dances, first date, sweet sixteen, first boyfriend and high school graduation,” their statement said. “All of this was taken from her by a family member that proclaimed to love her.”

Jenni Gerhauser, a cousin to both the inmate and Sarah Bonnie, however, had held out hope Dorsey would be spared. His death is “hard to come to terms with,” and the execution was “absolutely unnecessary,” she told CNN’s Laura Coates on Tuesday night.

“Brian was convicted of a terrible crime. We have never denied that. But Brian is not the worst of the worst, and a single, terrible night in his life didn’t justify killing him,” Gerhauser said. “When the … correctional officers sent that letter (supporting him) to the governor, I felt so validated, because … I cannot reconcile this crime with the one convicted for it.”

Inmate’s remorse and trial defense warranted mercy, petition argued

Dorsey was deeply remorseful for the murders, his attorneys said. His clemency petition claimed the killings occurred while Dorsey was suffering a “drug-induced psychosis and alcohol-induced blackout” after years of substance abuse aimed at self-medicating chronic depression.

As evidence of his atonement, Dorsey and his attorneys pointed to his spotless disciplinary record and his work as a staff barber; for 11 years, Dorsey cut the hair of staff at the Potosi Correctional Center, including chaplains, wardens and corrections officers – some of whom wrote to the governor backing his quest for clemency.

“If you ask me, if it were not for drugs, none of this would have happened,” wrote one whose name, like others, was redacted in the petition for privacy. “The Mr. Dorsey I know must have been out of his mind at the time of these murders.”

Additionally, Dorsey’s lawyers contend his sentence was unjust due to the arrangement by which his trial attorneys were paid. Both were given flat fees of $12,000, which would amount to just a few dollars an hour for the work required in a capital case.

Dorsey’s attorneys allege this created a “financial conflict of interest,” which disincentivized work on his case, leading the trial lawyers to have him plead guilty without a guarantee of a life sentence or adequately investigating. If they had done the latter, his current lawyers claim, they might have learned Dorsey was incapable of the deliberation required for a first-degree murder charge.

Dorsey’s trial attorneys previously testified the flat-fee payment did not affect their handling of the case. One declined to comment when reached by CNN last week, while the other did not respond.

CNN’s John Fritze contributed to this report.

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