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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In rare move, 60 Missouri prison staffers advocate for commuting man’s death sentence

Barbed wire fences encircle the Potosi Correctional Center on Wednesday in Mineral Point, Mo. The prison houses Missouri’s male death row inmates.  (Nick Wagner/Kansas City Star/TNS)
By Katie Moore The Kansas City Star

Sixty correctional officers and prison staff say a Missouri man who faces execution in April should be granted clemency.

Brian Dorsey is scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 9. The 51 year old was convicted in the 2006 killing of his cousin Sarah Bonnie and her husband Ben Bonnie in New Bloomfield, in central Missouri.

He has served most of his sentence at Potosi Correctional Center, about 70 miles south of St. Louis.

Dozens of former and current employees with the Missouri Department of Corrections signed onto a letter urging Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who has allowed nine executions to occur while in office, to commute Dorsey’s sentence to life without parole.

“We are part of the law enforcement community who believe in law and order,” the group wrote. “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.”

The letter said Dorsey “has stayed out of trouble, never gotten himself into any situations, and been respectful of us and of his fellow inmates.” It noted that he is housed in an “honor dorm,” which is awarded to prisoners with good conduct.

Troy Steele, a former warden at Potosi, said in a phone interview with The Kansas City Star that he approved Dorsey’s job as a barber.

“He’s in one of the most trusted positions in the institution being the staff barber,” Steele said.

Several prisoners, officers and Steele have gotten their hair cut by Dorsey in the past dozen years or so. In a review of Dorsey’s prison record, Steele said he found no conduct violations.

“He was a model inmate,” Steele said. “I don’t know that I have ever saw a report as good as he had.”

Steele said Dorsey’s record was “extraordinary,” especially in a prison environment where some people are “problematic” or end up having to defend themselves.

Steele summarized his review in a letter that will be sent to Parson’s office.

“I have no reason to believe that should his sentence be commuted that his behavior would diminish in any way,” Steele said in the letter.

Dorsey’s execution is opposed by his cousin Jenni Gerhauser, who was also related to Sarah Bonnie.

“It’s a unique experience because you are on both sides of this story,” Gerhauser said in a phone interview. “You’ve got a vested interest on both sides. There’s no winners in something like this, there’s not.”

Growing up, Gerhauser said she and Dorsey were close, having been born about three weeks apart. They spent holidays, birthdays and summers together.

But now, Gerhauser said 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.

She said Dorsey’s defense “was a joke.”

In an 80-page petition filed last month, Megan Crane, an attorney for Dorsey, said 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 said.

Instead, he should have been charged with second-degree murder, Crane said, making him ineligible for the death penalty.

His defense attorneys pressured him to plead guilty “in exchange for nothing,” the petition said. The two trial attorneys were appointed by the Missouri Public Defender Office under a flat fee payment structure.

“Counsel were paid the same amount whether they did nothing for their client or worked the thousands of hours that is typical in a capital trial,” the petition said.

Flat fees in capital cases are improper, according to guidelines issued by the American Bar Association. The same two attorneys received a flat fee for representing Michael Tisius, who was executed in June.

Gerhauser said an execution affects more than just the person sentenced to death.

“This person’s got a mother, this person’s got family, this person’s got friends, this person’s got people who care about them,” she said. “You’re punishing more than just the person you’re executing and that’s cruel and unusual in my opinion.”

However, other members of the victims’ families support Dorsey’s execution, according to reporting by the Riverfront Times.

Parson has denied every clemency request in a death penalty case since he became governor in 2018. Missouri, which executed four people last year, was one of five states to carry out executions in 2023.