Missouri Commutes Death Sentence of Kimber Edwards

On October 2, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon commuted the death sentence of Kimber Edwards to life without parole. Edwards had faced execution on October 6 for the alleged murder-for-hire killing of his ex-wife. Prosecutors said Edwards had hired Orthell Wilson to kill his ex-wife to prevent her from testifying in a child-support hearing. Wilson pled guilty and was sentenced to life without parole. He subsequently recanted his story, saying that he had acted alone and had lied about being hired by Edwards. Edwards has professed his innocence, despite confessing to police. His lawyers argue that he has a form of autism that makes him vulnerable to falsely confessing in the face of coercive interrogation tactics. Edwards' case also sparked charges of racial bias. He is one of 7 black men on death row from St. Louis County - the home of Ferguson - and was sentenced to death by an all-white jury after prosecutors used their discretionary strikes to remove three black prospective jurors. Missouri courts have found that St. Louis County prosecutors have unlawfully excluded black jurors because of race at least five times since 2002, and several other black death row prisoners in Missouri - including Andre Cole, Herbert Smulls, and Leon Taylor - were executed after having been sentenced to death by all-white juries. In addition, a recent study reported stark racial and geographic disparities in Missouri's application of the death penalty, and St. Louis County has executed more defendants than any other county in the state. 

In a statement accompanying the commutation, Governor Nixon said: “After a thorough review of the facts surrounding the murder of Kimberly Cantrell, I am convinced the evidence supports the jury’s decision to convict Kimber Edwards of first-degree murder. At the same time, however, I am using my authority under the Missouri Constitution to commute Edwards’ sentence to life without the possibility of parole. This is a step not taken lightly, and only after significant consideration of the totality of the circumstances. With this decision, Kimber Edwards will remain in prison for the remainder of his life for this murder.”

(Jeremy Kohler, "Nixon commutes death sentence for Kimber Edwards,"  St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 2, 2015; Editorial, "Too many black men sent to death by white juries," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 9, 2015.)  See Clemency, Innocence, and Race.