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Man convicted of killing 2 COs set to be executed in June; 5 jurors now say he should be spared

When Michael Tisius tried to escape the Randolph County Jail in 2000, he shot and killed corrections officers Jason Acton and Leon Egley


Corrections officers Jason Acton and Leon Egley died in the LODD on June 22, 2000.

Randolph County Sheriff’s Department

By Katie Moore
The Kansas City Star

HUNTSVILLE, Mo. — As a Missouri man’s execution date approaches, a team of attorneys is asking Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to grant him clemency in light of the abuse he endured as a child, jurors who have changed their minds and the role of a co-conspirator.

Michael Tisius, 42, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on June 6. He was convicted of killing two Randolph County jailers in June 2000.

This week, lawyers submitted a 56-page clemency application to the governor. Parson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Star.

The document is sprinkled with drawings — sunflowers, portraits of dogs and the Virgin Mary — created by Tisius, who said art has been an emotionally and mentally therapeutic outlet throughout his years at Potosi Correctional Center.

It also includes statements from jurors and an archbishop who support commuting his sentence to life without parole.

Tisius suffered beatings and neglect in childhood, lead poisoning and brain damage. He was manipulated by an older man, which led to the fatal shootings. Those factors and others have altered the views of some jurors, five of whom now oppose execution.

Tisius’ legal team also said he has expressed genuine remorse.

“Not a day has gone by that he has not regretted his actions,” they wrote to Parson. “His dedication to personal growth reflects in his artwork and his faith in God. He strives to be redeemed in the best manner he can, and in doing so, demonstrates the difference age makes in development.”

Abused and abandoned

Throughout his childhood, Tisius was neglected by his parents and beaten by his older brother.

“The boys lived on Pepsi, cold hot dogs, and chips,” the clemency application read. He often appeared hungry and dirty, reeking of urine and in need of medical attention for scabies or ringworm.

His parents had a volatile relationship and divorced when he was two. His mom was involved in sex work and was emotionally abusive. His dad came in and out of his life. His brother attacked him on a daily basis, throwing baseballs and bottles at him.

He failed sixth grade and had a “profoundly low sense of self-worth.”

“I’m weird I’m stupid,” he wrote as a child. “I’m a moron nobody likes me I’m ugly ... I’m not worth a cent.”

Tisius also grew up near a Superfund site.

Later in life, his attorneys had his lead levels tested and found that they were seven times the average amount. Elevated lead exposure can cause brain damage and behavioral problems.

When he was 13, he went to live with his father and his stepmom. She showed care towards him, but his dad abruptly sent him back to live with his mom after two months. He told his other brother his “dad didn’t want me anymore,” and in another note to himself, he wrote, “I hate myself. Everybody hates me. I wish I would die.”

A failed escape

Tisius was 19 when he met Roy Vance in the Randolph County jail.

Vance “saw Michael as a mark,” the clemency petition said, and Tisius “fell under Vance’s spell quickly.”

Neuropsychiatrist George Woods said Vance groomed Tisius, convincing him to help him escape with the aid of Vance’s girlfriend Tracie Bullington. But in the course of the attempted escape, Tisius shot and killed corrections officers Jason Acton and Leon Egley.

When interviewed by Tisius’ attorneys, Vance said he “manipulated Mike for my own benefit ... This is my fault. It only happened because of me.”

Jurors in Boone County sentenced Tisius to death.

But at least five now say they support life without parole. During sentencing, they did not hear much about Tisius’ early childhood traumas, assaults committed by his brother that resulted in concussions or his epilepsy, all of which doctors said affected his brain development. Some jurors noted that his trial attorneys did not present enough information about the role of Vance, who was sentenced to life and is housed at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, where executions take place.

“I remember Mr. Tisius’ defense attorneys presented very little,” one juror said.

Others noted his good behavior in prison and their belief in a second chance.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a personal representative of Pope Francis, urged Parson to spare Tisius’ life.

“The Holy Father appeals to you for clemency on behalf of Mr. Tisius solely on the basis of his and our own shared humanity,” Pierre wrote in a letter included with the clemency application.

Randolph County sheriff

Screens in the lobby of the Randolph County jail show revolving information, including remembrances for Acton and Egley, the two slain jailers.

The facility was built in the wake of their deaths. The former jail was a converted home.

“Unfortunately it seems like it always takes a tragedy to happen to get a new facility or for change,” said Sheriff Aaron Wilson, who joined the office three years after the murders.

He supports going forward with the execution.

“I think it’d be definitely a good closure for the family and in our county as a whole,” Wilson said.

However, he said he was concerned about how new information may impact what happens.

Late last month, Tisius’ attorneys discovered that one of the jurors was not able to read or write. According to Missouri law, a person is disqualified from serving on a jury if they are unable to read, speak and understand English. Motions are pending before the Missouri Supreme Court.

Parson has not granted clemency on a death penalty case as governor. Two people were executed last year and two people have been executed so far this year in Missouri. Two more executions, including Tisius’, are scheduled this year.

Missouri is one of four states that have carried out the death penalty in 2023, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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