The death penalty was first used in Missouri in 1810 for the crime of murder. Missouri carried out a total of 285 executions from 1810 to 1965. Hanging was the primary method of execution until 1936, when lethal gas came into use from 1937 until 1987. Starting in 1987, lethal injection was added as an option for inmates in addition to lethal gas.
In 1972, by a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty, as administered in Georgia, was arbitrary and capricious and thus, cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. This effectively suspended the death penalty nationwide, and in Missouri, from that date until states could revise their laws. Missouri’s new death penalty law became effective in 1975, when Governor Joseph Teasdale signed into immediate effect a new death penalty bill. It was not until 1989 that an execution was performed.
68 persons have been executed in Missouri since 1977. One high profile clemency was that of Darrell Mease. Convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his former drug partner, Lloyd Lawrence, Lawrence’s wife, and Lawrence’s grandson, Mease was scheduled to be executed in 1999. Pope John Paul II was visiting Missouri at the time and made a personal plea to Governor Mel Carnahan to grant Mease mercy. The day before Mease’s execution, Governor Carnahan granted Mease clemency, commuting his sentence to life without parole.