Brian Dorsey (pictured), a Missouri death row prisoner scheduled for execution on April 9, 2024, has garnered widespread support for clemency from more than 70 corrections officials, a former Missouri Supreme Court Judge, multiple jurors, Democratic and Republican state legislators, faith leaders, and his family members — several of whom are related to the victims, Sarah and Ben Bonnie — all of whom have called on Governor Mike Parson to commute his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Noteworthy among these supporters is a group of 72 current and former Missouri correctional officers, who submitted and signed a letter asking Gov. Parson to grant Mr. Dorsey clemency and commute his death sentence. “Generally, we believe in the use of capital punishment,” these officers wrote. “But we are in agreement that the death penalty is not the appropriate punishment for Brian Dorsey.” All these officers know Mr. Dorsey personally from their time spent working at Potosi Correctional Center, where Mr. Dorsey has lived in an “honor dorm” and worked for over a decade as the staff barber, “a position of exceptional trust and respect.” The officers added that “[e]very one of us believe that Brian is a good guy, someone who has stayed out of trouble, never gotten himself into any situations, and been respectful of us and of his fellow inmates.” Multiple corrections officers submitted individual letters of support, with one writing that “Mr. Dorsey has accepted what he did and taken accountability for his crime. It is my impression that he has spent his time since then trying to do his best by being a role model to other inmates and providing a valuable service to staff.” 

During his 17 years in prison, Mr. Dorsey has committed to improving himself and has remained infraction-free throughout his incarceration. In an individual letter to Gov. Parson, one corrections official says “when you spend time around Brian like I have, you can just tell that he has changed. Some inmates never change, no matter how many years they are in. But that’s not Brian… The Brian I have known for years could not hurt anyone. The Brian I know does not deserve to be executed.” Former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff also wrote to Gov. Parson urging him to grant clemency to Mr. Dorsey. Judge Wolff explained to Gov. Parson that the Court erred in upholding Mr. Dorsey’s death sentence, with his case being one of the “rare cases where those of us who sit in judgment of a man convicted of capital murder got it wrong.” Five of the jurors who sentenced Mr. Dorsey to death have also urged Gov. Parson to grant clemency, with one juror pleading that “by the grace of God, I hope you will find your way to give him a life sentence instead of death.” Both Republican and Democratic state legislators have also asked Gov. Parson to commute Mr. Dorsey’s sentence.

On April 1, 2024, attorneys for Mr. Dorsey filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, asking them to determine whether the flat fee paid to his appointed public defenders created an actual conflict of interest that violates his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Mr. Dorsey’s trial attorneys were each paid $12,000 to defend him — regardless of the amount of work they did. According to a 2010 report commissioned by federal courts, the average time spent by defense attorneys in capital cases is 3,557 hours, which means that each of Mr. Dorsey’s attorneys would have been paid $3.37 per hour spent on his case, if they spent the average time preparing a defense. Flat fee payments were a common practice across the United States, but the Missouri Public Defender System no longer uses them in death penalty cases because of the inherent conflict of interest that results. In 2003, the American Bar Association explicitly warned against the use of flat fees in death penalty cases, stating that “counsel in death penalty cases should be fully compensated at a rate that is commensurate with the provision of high-quality legal representation and reflects the extraordinary responsibilities inherent in death penalty representation.” The use of flat fees ultimately “discourages lawyers from doing more work than what is minimally necessary.”

Prior to his arrest in 2006, Mr. Dorsey did not have a history of violence but had suffered from depression for many years and had sought both inpatient and outpatient treatment. In efforts to alleviate the symptoms of his depression, Mr. Dorsey began drinking heavily and using crack cocaine. At the time of the crime, Mr. Dorsey was experiencing drug-induced psychosis, but Mr. Dorsey’s trial attorneys failed to investigate or present any mental health history. Had they hired an expert to evaluate Mr. Dorsey, they could have explained to the jury that he was incapable of forming the necessary intent to commit first-degree murder. Instead, his attorneys told him to plead guilty without any deal with the prosecution to remove the death penalty. The jury that sentenced Mr. Dorsey to death did not hear evidence of his substance abuse disorder and previous mental health history. 

In his letter to Gov. Parson, Judge Wolff also references Missouri’s former flat fee system, saying it “undoubtedly influenced everything” in Mr. Dorsey’s trial. Sean O’Brien, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor told The Marshall Project that for lawyers paid in flat fees, “it can be a boost to your cash flow at the beginning, but it’s a drain on your cash flow if you actually do the work.” Mary Fox, the director of the Missouri State Public Defender System also wrote a letter to Gov. Parson telling him that her office stopped using flat fees after Mr. Dorsey’s trial and recognizes that such fees “remove the incentive to do an effective job.”  

Megan Crane, an attorney for Mr. Dorsey told The Marshall Project that her client “says he wants to find a way to make people’s lives better to atone for what he’s done.” Mr. Dorsey has been placed in solitary confinement since the state announced his execution date and has been unable to continue his work as a barber. As Mr. Dorsey’s execution date approaches, Ms. Crane said that he “has tried to manage his expectations” about the possibility of clemency or court intervention. Mr. Dorsey “has taken full accountability since Day 1,” Ms. Crane said. “And the horror of the fact that he could have done this — I think that is still his focus in this final week.”


Mitch Smith and Ernesto Lodoño, He’s on Death Row for Murders. Prison Workers Say He Should Be Spared, New York Times, April 3, 2024; Edward Helmore, More than 150 peo­ple call on Missouri gov­er­nor to for­give Brian Dorsey’s death penal­ty, The Guardian, April 3, 2024; Maurice Chammah and Keri Blakinger, He Faces Execution. His Lawyers May Have Earned Less Than $4 per Hour., The Marshall Project, April 32024

See Mr. Dorsey’s clemen­cy peti­tion, here

See Mr. Dorsey’s peti­tion for cer­tio­rari, here