KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s Supreme Court on Wednesday set a Jan. 31 execution date for a man convicted of the 1998 killings of a woman and her two children even as five legal groups press a federal appeals court to spare him.
Mark Christeson’s lethal injection is the only one docketed among 25 condemned inmates in Missouri, where the last execution was in May. Missouri has executed more prisoners — 19 since November 2013 — than any state except Texas in recent years.
The U.S. Supreme Court previously intervened in Christeson’s case hours before he was to be put to death in 2014, saying his court-appointed attorneys were ineffective because they missed a federal appeals deadline. Virtually all death penalty cases in the U.S. are appealed through the federal courts.
In August, three national criminal defense associations, a civil rights law firm and the American Bar Association filed an appeal on 37-year-old Christeson’s behalf with the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The groups argue that Christeson, given the amount of money allocated to his defense, can’t afford to bring in experts to testify that his mental impairment left him unable to assert his own rights when his lawyers during his 1999 trial failed to adequately do their job.
Janet Moore of the National Association for Public Defense, among the defender groups for Christeson, said it was shocking that Missouri’s highest court would schedule the execution while legal matters are pending.
“There is serious concern that this man is not eligible for the death penalty, and he needs a full and fair opportunity to litigate that issue,” Moore said in a telephone interview. “I have complete faith in the federal courts dealing with this habeas petition to do the right thing.”
According to court records, the killings happened after Christeson, then 18, and a 17-year-old cousin, Jesse Carter, devised a plan to run away from home outside the central Missouri community of Vichy, where they were living with a relative. Armed with shotguns, the two walked a half-mile to the neighboring home of Susan Brouk, planning to steal her Ford Bronco.
Once there, they used shoelaces to bind the hands of Brouk’s two children, ages 12 and 9. Christeson forced Brouk into a bedroom and raped her before the suspects drove the family to a pond, where Brouk and one of the children were stabbed and thrown into the water to drown. The other child suffocated when Christeson pressed on her throat while his cousin held her.
Christeson and Carter fled to California, where they were arrested.
Carter agreed to testify against Christeson and was sentenced to life in prison.
In addition to Moore’s group and the American Bar Association, Christeson’s defenders trying to intervene on his behalf in the pending appeal are the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center of St. Louis.