Man set for execution for killing 2 COs did not get good enough defense, state agency says
Michael Tisius was 19 years old when he murdered two Randolph County corrections officers during a botched escape attempt in 2000
By Katie Moore
The Kansas City Star
HUNTSVILLE, Mo. — Missouri’s public defender system failed to adequately represent Michael Tisius, who was sentenced to death and is scheduled for execution next month, the head of the state office said.
In the latest bid to halt Tisius’ June 6 execution, Mary Fox, director of the Missouri State Public Defender’s office, urged Gov. Mike Parson to commute Tisius’ sentence to life in prison.
Tisius was 19 years old when he murdered two Randolph County corrections officers during a botched escape attempt in 2000.
During post-conviction proceedings, the court found evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and granted Tisius a new sentencing hearing. The case was handed over to another public defender, who was paid $10,000 upfront on a flat-fee basis.
Fox said that attorney failed to investigate relevant mitigating evidence and failed to present expert testimony on Tisius’ mental health diagnoses and adolescent brain development.
In July 2010, the death penalty was again handed down.
The flat-fee arrangement “disincentivizes the attorneys from performing the essential mitigation investigation, trial preparation, and trial presentation work necessary to effectively represent a person charged with a capital offense,” Fox wrote in the May 22 letter to Parson.
The payment structure, discouraged by the American Bar Association in capital cases, is no longer used by Missouri’s public defender system in death penalty cases.
Had the attorney presented mitigating evidence, jurors may have returned a life sentence instead of the death penalty, Fox said.
Five jurors interviewed by Tisius’ legal team agreed they would be satisfied with a life sentence, according to a clemency application sent to Parson’s office last week.
During resentencing, jurors 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 attorney did not present enough information about the role of his co-defendant Roy Vance, who reportedly convinced Tisius to help him escape from the jail.
“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.
Last month, lawyers for Tisius said they discovered that one of the jurors was not able to read or write. Under Missouri law, jurors are required to be able to read so they can understand jury instructions, evidence and reports.
Research has also shown that the brain is still developing through a person’s mid-twenties. The American Bar Association has asked states to ban executions of anyone 21 years old or younger when the crime was committed.
“Clemency is an opportunity to acknowledge the growth that Michael Tisius has experienced in the Department of Corrections, to recognize that as his brain has matured that he has changed, and to admit the dignity and sacredness of not just his life, but of all human life,” Fox wrote.
In addition to Fox and the five jurors, the American Bar Association, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a personal representative of Pope Francis, have called on Parson to grant clemency.
Parson has not commuted a death sentence. In the past six months, three people have died by lethal injection in Missouri. The state is one of four that has carried out executions this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
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